According to labor experts at law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, the “normal” 9-to-5 is no longer attractive to the future workforce.

The Covid-19 pandemic has served as a test of what the “new normal” can offer in relation to industrial relations and some working conditions, it said. “This has led to many employers successfully implementing hybrid working arrangements and, in some cases, even requiring their employees to work from home indefinitely.”

Nedbank chief executive Mike Brown said this week that the group’s flexible working and real estate optimization strategy had led to savings for the group.

“We have implemented a hybrid working model, where some of our employees will continue to work on-site, while others will alternate between on-site and remote work. While a significant portion of our workforce may work remotely digitally, employees are encouraged to return to the office to collaborate and interact,” said Brown.

He said that over the next few years, the lender will continue to optimize the portfolio by expanding the use of workstations, enabling flexible office designs to support more dynamic ways of working, and capitalizing on the successful experience of working from home as a result of Covid -19, while creating additional opportunities to reduce cost and expenses.

“Our optimal job allocation is expected to be approximately 60% on-premises at Nedbank and 40% as a mix of hybrid and permanent work-from-home models to support an anticipated workforce allocation pattern of 50% full-time on-premises, 30% hybrid and 20% permanently off-site,” said the executive director.

Cliff Decker Hofmayr noted that many employers report that they have experienced increased productivity and reduced employee stress.

On the other hand, however, employees were unable to close and found themselves working around the clock and beyond normal business hours. Given the above, does this mean that South Africa is ready for a four-day work week?

Countries such as Belgium and Great Britain have been able to successfully implement a four-day work week. However, given South Africa’s highly regulated labor and employment laws, it is argued that compared to these countries, it will not be such a seamless and straightforward exercise.

“South Africa has numerous bargaining boards and industry agreements that govern basic terms and conditions of employment in various sectors and include, in particular, working hours. In order to be able to implement a four-day work week model, these agreements will need to be amended and their terms revised to fit such a model,” said Cliff Decker Hoffmayr.

Press on the four-day

Speaking to 702 TV, Mponeng Seshea, co-founder of Imizizi, a human resources management company, said the four-day work week is only suitable for certain industries that can maintain the same level of productivity even with one less day.

Despite the office’s conservative management style, regulatory hoops and the possibility of lower wages, Seshi said a four-day work week is possible, but not for everyone.

With the rise of hybrid work after COVID-19, the debate about remote work, reduced working hours and flexible workplace management has moved from an international trend to a domestic reality.

South Africans are demanding more from their jobs with alternative working conditions, with some employers reporting that their employees are more productive and less stressed.

Seshi said the four-day work week currently works best for information technology jobs that don’t require a lot of interpersonal communication. Mainstream positions such as police officers or hospital staff may not have the luxury of a four-day work week option.

This was reported by Professor Dieter von Fintel from the Faculty of Economics of Stellenbosch University IOL that many workplaces in South Africa are characterized by time on task and require workers to be present even at non-productive times.

Von Dieter added that the majority of South Africans work in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations that are time-consuming and cannot be optimized to fit into four days. This type of work, which can be modified to fit into a four-day work week, is mostly done by highly educated people, who are a minority in our workforce.

“I don’t think we’re ready for that. Because we have such a high unemployment rate, a shorter work week could mean employers hire more workers for fewer hours,” Von Dieter said.

However, Sechea argued that changing the work week could stimulate employment if the person taking the day off is replaced by someone who works flexibly or on condition to bridge the productivity gap of one less day.

If you think about a production line that has to produce 30 units a day with a certain number of people. If you reduce the number of people per day, but still have to meet the same production – you can attract new people, she said.

Seshi said that a four-day work week would only be optimal for environments where the person in charge is not a micromanager who needs to see their employees every day at work. So far, it largely depends on the responsibility between the employer and the employee.

For this to work, there has to be trust in the team so the employer can have peace of mind knowing that tasks are being completed on time, Ceshea said.

Legal obstacles

For the four-day work week to become a reality for more than just a select group, South African labor laws need to be amended. The shortened week could apply to white-collar workers earning more than R224,000 a year, said Abigail Butcher, associate in Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s employment law practice.

White-collar workers earning above the threshold are not bound by the working time rules in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). These white-collar workers are also likely to work in an office environment and have flexibility when it comes to their schedules, Butcher said.

Under the BCEA, the working hours of employees earning less than the ministerial threshold of 224,080 rand and in certain sectors are governed by a sectoral definition. Companies can also enter into collective bargaining agreements with unions that regulate working hours, Myasnik said.

She said that in order for there to be significant changes sufficient to introduce a four-day work week, that legislation would need to be amended.

The trial continues

The UK is currently running the largest four-day workweek in partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. Since launching in June, the pilot, which will run until the end of the year, has involved 3,300 workers from 70 companies.

During the program, workers receive 100% of their wages for working only 80% of their normal week. Performance, however, must be maintained at 100%.

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