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'Employees will work smarter, not longer': Is Ireland ready for a four-day working week?

Welcome to TheJournal.ie’s 10-week podcast series, Ireland 2029.

Image: Shutterstock/TheJournal.ie

A LOT CAN happen in 10 years. Where is Ireland going, and what will life be like here in the year 2029? Welcome to Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, a brand new podcast from TheJournal.ie.

Over the next 10 episodes, we’re partnering with Volkswagen to bring you 10 big ideas that could change Ireland for the better. Each week, we’ll talk to someone about an idea they truly believe could work, and find out whether it’s practical, or whether it’s a non-runner.

In the first episode of Ireland 2029, we ask: Is Ireland ready for a four-day working week?

“In the same way as trade unions won the weekend, and won the eight-hour day, we can win the four-day week.”

That’s Joe O’Connor, director of campaigning at Fórsa, outlining his support for a four-day working week to Ireland 2029 presenter Sean Murray.

Here in Ireland, employers typically work to a five days on, two days off structure. But could more time offline make for a happier workforce, a more productive economy, and a more sustainable society?

It’s an idea that has already been trialled internationally. Perpetual Guardian, a trust fund management company in New Zealand, conducted a pilot four-day week scheme over eight weeks in 2018.

Staff satisfaction, motivation and overall productivity was monitored during the scheme by researchers from the University of Auckland and Auckland Institute of Technology. The benefits went far beyond just perceived happiness. Staff showed increased commitment, stronger leadership skills, and – most notably – no loss in overall productivity.

Irish companies are on board

Closer to home, the Galway recruitment firm ICE Group recently made headlines with plans to adopt a similar approach with its own staff rosters. Starting from July 2019, staff will work four nine-hour days, with the same pay as before, and a three-day weekend.

The idea is one that ICE MD Margaret Cox predicts will contribute to a rise in sales of between 10% and 15% next year, but it was a slow burner to begin with. Speaking on the first episode of Ireland 2029, she recalls:

When we announced it to staff there was dead silence and we were going, ‘Oh my God, nobody likes this idea’. And I think it was that everybody was just falling off their chair.

Despite the obvious advantages to employers, a four-day work week presents some major challenges too.

For companies that require a continuous flow of production, or in industries like healthcare where staff work “on call” over long periods, it’s not practical to suddenly cut labour hours.

“You lose flexibility,” John Barry, MD of Management Support Services and a council member of ISME, tells Ireland 2029 reporters. “That’s where the difficulties begin.”

So could working shorter hours really mean working smarter, and perhaps more efficiently – or will it be a mess of logistics, missed deadlines and over-stressed employers?

Hear more on the first episode of Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, which is live right now:

Full list of providers here:


Source: Ireland 2029/SoundCloud

Ireland 2029 is a podcast from TheJournal.ie, in partnership with VolkswagenThis episode was put together by presenter Sean Murray, producer Stevie McDermott, series producer Órla Ryan and executive producer Christine Bohan. Editing by Nicky Ryan. With thanks to Paula Lyne and our contributors. 

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