‘We see major advantages’: businesses launch a four-day week in the Covid crisis


If he supports moving, Rishi Sunak could escape a steep rise in unemployment, says the think tank.

After the first coronavirus lockout last year, when Goal Publishing reduced employee salaries, the magazine group knew it had to make a meaningful move towards its workers.

So, a four-day work week was created.

“I felt better because I was able to give something back that matched the sacrifice everyone had made,” says David Cann, founder and owner of Target. The publisher of 20 titles, including Natural Lifestyle and Health Food Business, reduced wages for its 30 employees by 20 percent in the face of declining ad revenues and many cancelled ventures.

But the move to a four-day work week gave the Essex-based business immediate benefits. What amazed Cann was how much more efficiently workers worked, and that he was able to restore salaries to all employees and retain the four-day week by July, when the situation had changed.

There were teething issues, of course, but we found that meetings were far shorter and we looked at how workers worked and what they were doing to achieve significant efficiencies much more closely,”Of course, there were teething problems, but we found that meetings were much shorter and we took a much closer look at how staff worked and what they were doing to achieve significant efficiencies,”

“And from a mental health perspective, we’re seeing huge benefits, and because everyone wants it to work, you get a benefit in terms of higher profits.”
The producer of Dove soap and Magnum ice cream, which employs more than 150,000 workers worldwide, gave the kind of high-profile support of flexible employment that advocates have been waiting for, when Unilever revealed in November that it would switch employees at its New Zealand operation to a four-day workweek with the same pay.

“The time is now,” says economist Aidan Harper, who is lobbying for the four-day week alongside colleagues at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank and a growing number of political organizations across Europe.

Harper is the co-author of The Case for a Four-Day Week, a recent book that sets out the realistic case for reducing hours without compromising pay.

He said that for most of the 20th century, firms were forced to give employees a significant share of productivity gains – each worker’s production per hour – either by union action, government policy or labor shortages, but by the 1980s that ran out of steam.

After the 2008 financial crisis, with productivity gains trending towards zero and the pandemic pushing businesses such as Target to reconsider how they distribute their capital, hopes are increasing that a wider change to shorter hours would be seen in 2021.

A recent study by think tank Autonomy argues that by helping businesses transition to a four-day workweek, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, could avoid a steep rise in unemployment.

The majority of the 50,000 companies surveyed will be able to make the move by increasing productivity or raising prices, according to the study.

It called on the government to discuss ways, beginning with the public sector, to implement a four-day week.

Awin, an online marketing company, revealed a few weeks after Unilever’s announcement that its 1,000 staff, including more than 300 in the U.K. – After exploring different types of flexible employment, it would switch to a four-day week.

Unilever, like Awin, can trust workers during a 12-month pilot to work more efficiently. This is not based on optimism, but on an examination of how 81 workers are performing their everyday duties in Auckland. It will use practical lessons from Perpetual Guardian, a local consultancy that provides a four-day week on its own and is managed by Andrew Barnes, a former chief executive of Bestinvest, a £ 5.7 billion-turnover investment broker.

To minimize repetitive tasks and allow quicker decision-making, Unilever will implement new project management software.

After the experiment, with the University of Technology in Sydney, the organization aims to analyze the findings and look at how the remaining 155,000 workers worldwide would follow a shorter working week.

The program follows Microsoft’s parallel research of its Japanese operations and the implementation of shortened hours by Toyota in some of its factories.

In November, Microsoft said workers had improved their productivity by 40 percent, making the decline in employee attendance 20 percent greater.


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