Public Affairs

Trade Union Desk

Four-day week can transform Irish work practices

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen radical shifts in our working practices. What is becoming clear is that more flexible ways of working are here to stay, writes Joe O’Connor, Director of Campaigning with Fórsa Trade Union and Chairperson of the Four Day Week Ireland campaign.

The pandemic has given people a chance to reflect on what they value most and how they want to manage their working lives.

Employees do not want to return to long commutes and five days a week in the office. They want to have more work/life balance. The pandemic also shown that businesses can adapt to new ways of working. It would have been unthinkable 18 months ago that most business would be conducted remotely and virtually.

A four-day week can play a key role in providing the work/life balance employees want post-Covid and deliver positive results for business.

The Four Day Week Ireland campaign recently launched a pilot programme for employers to trial a four-day week for their business. We are calling on employers to sign-up to the pilot programme and realise the benefits of a shorter working week for your business and your employees. We know from international research that a shorter working week does not mean a loss in productivity – in many cases, it is the opposite.

Under the pilot programme, employers will introduce a four-day week for their employees over a six-month period starting in January 2022. The pilot includes business supports to help organisations explore flexible working smoothly and successfully.

The business supports include a training programme developed by companies who have already successfully implemented a four-day week; coaching, mentoring and advice from four-day week business leaders; networking and collaboration with other participant companies in Ireland and internationally; and access to world-class academic research and expert analysis.

The pilot is part of an international collaboration with 4 Day Week Global, and will run on a coordinated, parallel basis in several countries including Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

As part of the pilot programme in Ireland, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have announced they will fund a call for research to assess the economic, social, and environmental impacts of a four-day working week in a specifically Irish context.

This research will examine the impact of a shorter working week on private sector companies and public sector employers as they pilot a four-day week over six months. It will explore the impact of a shorter working week on productivity, wellbeing, job satisfaction, environmental footprint, and household division of labour.

The research findings could play a key role in building government support for the gradual, steady, managed transition to a shorter working week for all private and public sector workers in Ireland.

Major government-backed pilot programmes of the four-day working week are already being developed in Spain and Scotland, and the four-day week has been successfully introduced in a growing number of companies worldwide, including here in Ireland.

Employers who have already introduced a four-day week have found that a shorter working week can benefit their employees physical and mental health, as well as bringing broader benefits to society, including by reducing carbon emissions and supporting gender equality.

The launch of the four-day week pilot programme represents an exciting moment of change for employers and employees, and it’s up to the business community now to show that they are willing to lead and support this change for the better.

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