The promise of a four-day week? A critical appraisal of a management-led initiative

Employee Relations: The International Journal,44(1),176-190. DOI: 10.1108/ER-02-2021-0056.

The University of Auckland Business School Research Paper Series

Posted: 11 Jul 2022

See all articles by Helen Delaney

Helen Delaney

University of Auckland Business School

Catherine Casey

Loughborough University

Date Written: 2021

Abstract

Purpose
This article critically investigates a management-led experiment to institute a four-day work week with stated intentions of improving productivity and worker wellbeing. The article analyses the framing and implementation of the reduced work hours (RWH) trial, the responses of employees and the outcomes and implications of the trial. It raises concerns regarding the managerial appropriation of employee aspirations for more autonomy over time and improved work life.

Design/methodology/approach
We conducted a qualitative case study of a medium-sized company operating in the financial services sector in New Zealand. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 45 employees.

Findings
Our study finds that the promise of a four-day week attracted employee favour and individualised benefits. However, entrenched managerialist practices of performance measurement, monitoring and productivity pressures were intensified. Pro-social and collective interests evident in labour-led campaigns were absent. We urge greater critical scrutiny into seemingly advantageous “business case” initiatives for reduced work hours.

Originality/value
Little is known about what happens to concern for social and employee interests entailed in reduced working hours initiatives when a management-led initiative is implemented. Indeed, the majority of research focuses on the macro-level rather than interrogating the “black box” of firms. Our inquiry contributes to these debates by asking, how does a management-led RWH initiative affect employees?
Full paper available at https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-02-2021-0056

Keywords: Four-day week, Reduced working hours, Wellbeing, Work time reduction, Work–life balance

Suggested Citation

Delaney, Helen and Casey, Catherine, The promise of a four-day week? A critical appraisal of a management-led initiative (2021). Employee Relations: The International Journal,44(1),176-190. DOI: 10.1108/ER-02-2021-0056., The University of Auckland Business School Research Paper Series, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4159128

Helen Delaney (Contact Author)

University of Auckland Business School ( email )

12 Grafton Rd
Private Bag 92019
Auckland, 1010
New Zealand

Catherine Casey

Loughborough University ( email )

Ashby Road
Nottingham NG1 4BU
Great Britain

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