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Longer weekends: is a 4-day work week a good idea for South Africa?

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Working only four days per week may sound like a dream to most workers, but would this be realistic in South Africa? Local experts, employers and employees weigh in on it.

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WORKING only four days per week may sound like a dream to most workers, but would this be realistic in South Africa?

We may think this concept is something new, however, apparently it’s been a round for centuries. Reportedly, Robert Owen, a Welsh textile mill owner, social reformist, and labour activist, was the one who conceptualised the idea in 1817.

Now, more than two centuries later, the UK might be starting to incorporate his ideals. This week, an experiment was started where more than 3,000 workers in the UK would get an extra day off.

According to the organisers of this unconventional study, 4-Day Week Global, the frontier of competition in business has now become quality of life, with an extra day off from work providing that for employees.

However, South African economist, Dawie Roodt, is not optimistic about this prospect in South Africa. According to Roodt, in the past few years during the Covid-19 lockdown, many people have in fact had to work longer hours from home.

“In the slightest chance that this would occur in the country, the onus of making the decision should be among companies and their employees and not by politicians or the government.

“We have exceptionally high numbers of unemployment, and reducing work days would not create more jobs; instead, they will be scarcer because the economy will suffer, and people will become less productive,” believes Roodt.

He does not think that a four-day work week will happen in South Africa, saying the country is just not there yet.

“We are a poor, developing country, and there are numerous obstacles in the way before we can get to a four-day work week unlike the rich nations.”

Noncedo Mbona, a Durban accountant, believes that such a work week would lead to companies giving employees more work to do to cover the Friday off.

“There is all this pressure to always be productive. So, while an extra day at home would be nice, I would feel guilty that I am not working. Perhaps it would take time to acclimate to it,” she says.

The chief executive of the Efficient Group, Heiko Weidhase, says while a four-day work week may be practical in the financial services industry, in reality, clients would not adhere to such a structure and would call any day.

Financially, it would also increase direct costs in order to deliver a five-day service, he says.

“Based on these additional costs, one may expect improved productivity within the four days. There is also the risk of Thursday becoming the new Friday, with workers winding down and contemplating their wonderful upcoming three-day weekend,” says Weidhase.

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