Load shedding ‘adaptability’ a plus for 4-day week

Residents living around Ntuzuma are advised of a planned power outage at the Ntuzuma Substation due to maintenance work. Picture: Couleur/PixabayLightbulbElectricityPower outageLoad shedding

Residents living around Ntuzuma are advised of a planned power outage at the Ntuzuma Substation due to maintenance work. Picture: Couleur/PixabayLightbulbElectricityPower outageLoad shedding

Published Dec 9, 2023


Durban — South African businesses have been encouraged to “just take a chance” and try out the 4-day work week which ran its first pilot in the country this year.

Kay Orlandi, founder and strategic partner at ad agency 3Verse, said the experience was far more beneficial than anyone had anticipated and they would not revert to the old way of doing business.

She said staff were more rested, their productivity increased and they had time to do the things they would otherwise never get to do.

“I would encourage any business to give it a shot because you never know until you try and you can’t try something like this from the sidelines.

“You have to actually go all in and give it a shot. And you can always at the end of it walk away.”

Orlandi said this was the future of work and any business that wasn’t prepared to experiment was going to short-change itself in the long term and make themselves irrelevant. She said since 3Verse adopted the 4-day work week, job applications had been flooding in.

When staff were asked whether they would choose a shorter work week over a 10 or 20% wage increase, they all wanted a day off.

“The benefit of it is so tangible. It’s so real compared with money or any other staff benefit you would throw at your people. Money is great for the first month and then after that you’ve adjusted your lifestyle and again, you’re broke.”

Orlandi said during intense periods of activity they had suspended the 4-day work week, but staff were okay with that.

“There was a much higher forgiveness factor from the start, less grumbling when they had to put in extra hours and work overtime. And especially because we said ‘it’s temporary, as soon as we can, we will bring back the 4-day week’. Just that promise made such a difference because people instantaneously felt the benefits of a 4-day week.”

The pilot study also highlighted the surprising benefits of load shedding, which had made the local workforce more adaptable. Orlandi said while many businesses in the UK just decided to take a Friday off, South African companies experimented with different models like hybrid days and flexible work hours, because workers were accustomed to being agile when faced with power shortages.

“When the lights go off we say okay, cool, I can’t do this right now, so let me do this other thing. We’ve had many years of getting used to being that flexible and adaptable and I think we just carried it over.”

Professor Mark Smith from Stellenbosch University, who heads the research into the pilot in collaboration with Boston College in the US, said when they started, companies were uncertain of what to expect, but embraced the process with a sense of adventure and collegiality.

Smith said 29 companies started the pilot project in March. Two dropped out but said they would continue in another pilot.

“You have to work faster and harder. It’s not a free lunch. You cut out some of the slack but also people are more focused and they get on with their jobs, so there was uncertainty about whether people could do that.”

In the second phase people were more comfortable, and halfway through there was a level of positivity.

Smith said overall the results from South Africans were similar to findings in the rest of the world: a strong commitment to continue the 4-day work week, positive results for well-being, work-life balance and staff retention.

Some differences were that South Africans did not reduce their working hours as much as organisations in other countries and in some cases it was just because people like to work.

“They said they like to come in to work for five days,” said Smith.

Another differentiator was that unlike their international counterparts many South Africans had side hustles which they focused on when off.

“It’s a common activity for many people in South Africa and that stands out as different from results elsewhere. People were doing another activity or starting a separate business or involved in some other professional activity that may link to the main job.

“Managers saw that as a positive: they were saying at least the person is doing that while staying in my company, not competing directly, so they are maybe improving their skills working for a different customer.”

Smith said they would like to conduct a detailed study to determine why people have side hustles – for extra income or because they like the identity or challenge.

4-Day Week South Africa director Karen Lowe said they were recruiting companies for a new pilot to start early next year. She said the first one was an overwhelming success and she looked forward to working with bigger and more diverse companies, especially in mining and manufacturing.

She said workers loved the “me time” they had and local companies emerged as more adaptable than their overseas counterparts.

Results across the board showed a 49% improvement in productivity, revenue growth of 10.5%, absenteeism dropped by 9%, employers and workers reported mental health improvement of 35%, work life balance improved by 47%, burnout dropped by 57% and fatigue by 36%.

Lowe said while these results tied in with other global studies, South Africa had unique stressors, such as load shedding, high rates of mental health problems and a constrained work force.

“The South African companies have managed the demands better, the employees have managed the work demands better and definitely find a lot of benefit in having time off to spend in a way that made sense to them,” said Lowe.

Independent on Saturday