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

Helen Delaney (The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Catherine Casey (Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 10 August 2021

Issue publication date: 1 March 2022

4808

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?

Keywords

Citation

Delaney, H. and Casey, C. (2022), "The promise of a four-day week? A critical appraisal of a management-led initiative", Employee Relations, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 176-190. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-02-2021-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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