In recent years, proposals for a four-day work week in Kenya have been floated and met with excitement. The proposal suggests slashing work hours from 40 – or five days – to 32.
Less work for the same money, as some have put it.
Indeed, presidential candidate in the recent election George Wajackoyah proposed working for four days a week.
‘‘When you work for four days in an open and 24-hour economy, it is possible to move into the shift format. This would mean increased employment,’’ he argued.
The discussion had been running for some time in different forums.
Today, developed economies such as Belgium and the United Arab Emirates have passed legislation to allow employees to work for four days. The concept is also on trial in Spain, Scotland, Japan, and Iceland.
Is this viable in this economy, though? What do Kenyan employers think about the proposal?
Carole Kariuki, the chief executive of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), says the discussion has not featured in detail in the country, with the initial target having been to make Kenya a 24-hour economy.
‘‘Until we have figured that out, it makes the discussion complex,’’ she notes, adding that Covid-19 shifted the discussion, with most organisations allowing their staff to work from home.
‘‘Does a four-day work week mean people are working from the office or home?"
After the pandemic, some employers such as the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) have developed a hybrid system that allows staff to work from home and the office.
Ms Kariuki argues that Kenya is economically far behind countries that have taken this route, with the unemployment rate still high.
‘‘The discussion will definitely happen once as a country we have addressed the question of jobs and a 24-hour economy.’’
Unga Group CEO Peter Choge agrees, saying that Kenya is still a developing economy. ‘‘Can we really afford that? Would our people be more productive working for four days instead of five?’’ he poses.
‘At this stage in our economy, we still need all hands on deck to be able to get to where we want to be. We cannot compare ourselves with more mature economies. The economy of Texas ($2 trillion) is nearly 20 times that of Kenya ($116 billion),’’ he adds.
Whereas some business executives are resolute that the concept cannot work in the country, others say it is worth trying in the future.
KCB Group chief executive Paul Russo says he is a believer in flexible work for as long as his teams deliver, adding that neither where people work from nor the number of times they clock in matter.
Mr Russo, though, throws in a caveat. ‘‘There has to be transparency around what one is doing,’’ he insists. ‘‘We are a regulated entity because banking is about other people’s money.’’ To him, there is no reason Kenya should not try out the working model ‘‘if organisations can build self-managing teams’’ since there is evidence of success elsewhere.
‘‘It is important for us to deliberately build leaders who can then build self-managing teams. I do not need to know where my executive members are. But when we meet, whether virtual or physical, I expect you to have delivered your mandate.’’
Globally, technology companies have been at the forefront to try out and embrace the idea, sometimes with impressive results.
In 2019, Microsoft experimented with a four-day work week for its employees in Japan, with astonishing results. Productivity went up by a staggering 40 percent, according to the tech giant.
Stephane Lopez, the general manager for Nas Servair, a company that supplies meals to airlines, says more time is needed to think the idea through. He adds: ‘‘It is not something we are working on at the moment. Our industry is quite particular.’’
Whereas companies have been hesitant to venture into the subject so far, this has not prevented their employees from talking about it. On Twitter, they suggest that Friday should be a day off. Results of an online poll by entertainment publication Kenya Buzz earlier this year show that 70 percent of Kenyan workers would like to work for 32 instead of 40 hours a week.
‘‘A four-day workweek should be a reality in Kenya,’’ suggests Wanjiku Kange’the, the founder of Toxic Workspaces. The company helps millennial founders, entrepreneurs and leaders to attain a balance between work and rest.
So far, employers and employees seem to be reading from different scripts, with the former in support of the model while the latter appears to be cautious about taking this route, arguing that it is injurious to productivity and, ultimately, business. Company heads, however, concur that the discussion will be inevitable in the future.