The four-day week is gaining traction, as civil servants’ union PASYDY has officially tabled a demand to test drive the idea during the summer in a meeting with the Finance Ministry last week.
PASYDY’s request, however, is met with scepticism by officials, with economists arguing that productivity in the public sector is not high enough to support reduced working hours.
As it emerged, PASYDY’s general secretary Stratis Matheou met with Finance Ministry officials and presented a study by a private audit firm specialising in regulating flexible working in the public sector.
It suggested the four-day week be implemented for July and August, following in the footsteps of some private firms on the island.
Economists believe the workforce is “not mature enough” to adopt a 4-day work week as a flexible form of employment, as productivity levels are low, noting the public sector’s productivity rate does not exceed 0.5% – 1%.
Cyprus ranks 59 in the world in the productivity per hour index.
An economics professor at the University of Cyprus, Stavros Zenios, told the news site Stockwatch that “unions, in the private and public sector, should first convince officials that productivity is at least on the rise, before demanding a four-day week, which will translate into a reduction in working hours”.
Economist Mike Spanos argued the implementation of a four-day week in the public sector would reduce the already languishing output of public services.
“The public sector is simply not productive.
“And, even where it is productive, its productivity is lower compared to other sectors of the economy.
“Any adoption of the four-day work week will imply a shift of resources from productive sectors of the economy to a less productive sector.
“This is one of the worst decisions one can make,” said Spanos.
According to Marios Clerides, economist and member of UCy’s Centre for Economic Research, implementing a shorter in the public sector could only come after a series of important structural changes.
“All those involved, first the state and then the representatives of civil servants, must address fundamental problems arising from the basic structure of public service.
“Let’s fix the dysfunctioning public service and then look at flexible hours.”
Experts also note that introducing a four-day week has not always benefitted productivity.
In Iceland, which was the first country to implement the four-day work model, mainly in the public sector, productivity remained stagnant, while in other pioneer countries, this model led to a decrease.
But other private sector businesses involved in a six-month trial in Britain, which ended in December 2022, said the 4-day shift had beneficial effects focusing on improved productivity, higher morale, and team culture.
The Cypriot paradigm
In July and August 2022, PwC Cyprus was the first firm to implement the four-day working week, thus extending by one day (Friday) the employees’ free personal time.
In a communication with the Financial Mirror, a PwC spokesperson said that following the encouraging results in the summer of 2022, the firm has decided to reintroduce the four-day week for July and August this year.
“This targeted action falls within the framework of our efforts for the improved well-being of our people and a better balance between their professional and personal lives,” said PwC.
“The results of this pioneering practice were especially satisfactory for the employees and the organisation’s leadership team.”
In an internal survey following the pilot implementation last year, 77% of PwC Cyprus employees reported they managed to avoid working on most Fridays.
In comparison, 95% reported the four-day workweek positively impacted them.
Some 65% stated their productivity increased during that period, and 34% stated that it remained at the same levels.
Moreover, 61% reported that client service capacity remained at the same high levels, while 37% stated that client service had improved.
Sources at the Finance Ministry say they are unsure what to make of the discussion.
The source said the ministry’s main concern is they have not yet solved issues surrounding the evaluation of civil servants’ productivity.