Isabelle Rey-Millet is director of the consulting firm Ethikonsulting in Boulogne, in Hauts-de-Seine, and professor of management at Essec. She is among the experts who defend the four-day week as one of the means of revive the commitment of French employees to their business. It is also a way of exploring new more empowering management methods, far from the rigid practices still in force in France, but which the pandemic is helping to shatter.
The consultant left the Paris region during the pandemic to settle in Bordeaux, a way of showing that we can manage a team while improving its living environment.
What is the point for a company to switch to the four-day week?
It is multiple. It is first and foremost a question of adaptability to today’s world. In France, we organize poorly in companies. We do not know how to motivate people and half of them say they procrastinate, on average, an hour a day. According to the Gallup study, the rate of hired employees rose from 9% six years ago to 6% two years ago, but a quarter stay in the office late to show off their hierarchy!
We could therefore work for a shorter time and more efficiently. Because we also suffer from reunion, with one to five hours a day spent in meetings, often doing something else at the same time. It is therefore also a question of mental health. the human brain is overworked, digital technology is speeding up exchanges, and burnouts and other occupational illnesses represent 70% of the 108 billion euros that absenteeism costs in France. Presenteeism has therefore fizzled out, and moving to the four-day week would allow us to regain efficiency, and therefore productivity, and to take a break that is beneficial to our brain.
Is it suitable for all businesses?
It’s like a sartorial fad, some will suit some, not others. It is complicated among artisans, in very small businesses and adapts better in large SMEs and groups, where you can develop versatility and organize yourself differently. It depends above all on the managerial archaism of the leaders. The company’s ability to rethink its managerial model is the first criterion. To succeed in a four-day shift, you have to trust the teams, let them test and learn. However, the preferred model in France remains “command and control”, more reassuring and less risky.
How is the period more conducive to this development?
The Covid-19 crisis has broken this habit of command and control. With the distance, companies have found that it is possible to telework while being efficient, that teleworking makes it possible to make employees more autonomous… if they are well managed.
What feedback do you have from the first experiences?
Many companies have moved to a four-day week thanks to adapted management. Some with significant productivity gains. For my part, I work with companies that want above all to test new forms of organization, more efficient for the company, comfortable and attractive for employees. In industry, for example, a company in the South of France has designed, with its employees, a highly automated packaging line. The employees were very autonomous and, after six months, they changed their organization to condition as many bottles in 32 hours of work per week as in 35 hours. Thus, by closing the plant on Thursday at 8 p.m., the company frees its employees on Friday and this allows the teams to pass through preventive maintenance – which was previously done on Saturdays in overtime. The chain never breaks down and becomes extremely productive. But it is a possible case of figure because the chain does not work in 3×8.