Should Singapore companies adopt a four-day work week?

An ongoing trial of 70 companies in the United Kingdom operating under a four-day work week schedule has shown promising results.

The trial, which is at its halfway mark, is organised by 4-Day Week Global, a non-profit community of businessmen, academics, researchers and authors, that seek to prove that working just four days a week is as effective, if not more productive, than the traditional five-day work week. 

According to a press release issued by the community, indicative research has shown a “general tenor of positive experiences”, as well as some certain discomforts arising from changing decades of deep-seated work habits and schedules.

A questionnaire with multi-choice answers on a scale of 1 to 5, of which 41 companies responded, found that:

  • 88 percent of respondents stated that the four-day week is working ‘well’ for their business at this stage in the trial;
  • 46 percent of respondents say their business productivity has ‘maintained around the same level’, while 34 percent report that it has ‘improved slightly’, and 15 percent say it has ‘improved significantly;
  • On how smooth the transition to a four-day week has been (with 5 being ‘extremely smooth’ and ‘1’ being ‘extremely challenging’), 29 percent of respondents selected ‘5’, 49 percent selected ‘4’ and 20 percent selected ‘3’;
  • 86 percent of respondents stated that at this juncture in the trial, they would be ‘extremely likely’ and or ‘likely’ to consider retaining the four-day week policy after the trial period.

But the switch was not without some challenges – according to some respondents, annual leave and an increased workload could make it hard to fit everything into just four days. Some respondents reported difficulties in changing mindsets of employers, who were resistant to the reduced hours.

These challenges were eventually resolved through teamwork and rallying workers towards the common goal of a four-day work week.

Should Singapore companies adopt a similar work arrangement?

The notion that Singapore-based employees could make a four-day model work has been flagged in parliament.

Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State in the Manpower Ministry said that companies should adopt a “flexible” mindset on the four-day work week arrangement.

While the four-day work week has shown promise in improving work-life balance, employee productivity and job satisfaction, it is not a must for all companies.

Ms Gan noted that pilot studies in Ireland, Japan, Spain and Belgium have yielded mixed results, with productivity improving in some cases depending on the sector and job type. 

Stakeholders are concerned that business costs and employee well-being could be compromised, if companies were to cram five days of work into just four days, she added.

In a 22 April statement released by the Manpower Ministry, along with NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation, called for flexible work arrangements, such as staggered hours, work from home, to be permanent.

This is amid the relaxing of social distancing measures at work, where all employees can return to the workplace.

While the four-day work week may not be the new way of working for all companies, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) called for practices such as working from home and staggered hours at the workplace to be made permanent practices. 

What team are you on? Flexible work arrangements or a four day work week?

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