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  • Conor’s Corner: The four-day week is a no-brainer… just ask Luca Brecel

Conor’s Corner returns, and this month the controversial columnist sets out why we should all be thinking about a four-day work week, while also wittering on about his beloved snooker.

Following an extraordinary run of good luck in the UK this month – which saw Charlie Windsor’s Big New Hat Party grace us with an unprecedented extra bank holiday – many of us got a taste of that new style of work being pushed by several firms across the globe: the four-day work week.

What joy we all felt, as the classic first-Monday-in-May bank holiday was followed swiftly by another, with two four-day weeks back-to-back giving us a glimpse into the lives of those lucky staff members and companies taking part in a four-day week pilot earlier this year.

Does it work, though?

According to The 4 Day Week Campaign, the six-month trial saw 61 companies across a variety of sectors allow their staff to reduce working hours by 20% with no reduction in pay. And the results are in.

Almost every company (92%) which took part in the trial decided to continue with the four-day week after the pilot, with 18 out of 61 immediately opting to make it a permanent fixture.

The vast majority of participating firms were satisfied that business performance and productivity were maintained, as revenues rose by 1.4% on average over the course of the trial.

The only things that did drop during the period, it seems, were levels of staff anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues, with 71% of employees also reporting lower levels of stress and burnout.

Staff said the trial had made it easier to balance their work with family and social commitments, and that they were more satisfied with their household finances, relationships and time management.

The trial also recorded a 57% decline in the likelihood of employees quitting, and a 65% reduction in the number of sick days.

I mean seriously, this must be worth a closer look.

Best weekend of the year

Of my own fortnightly four-day week trial, my favourite of the two bank holidays was naturally May Day, which is known the world over as the final day of the annual Snooker World Championship, undoubtedly the most exhilarating sporting event in the calendar.

It should come as no surprise that this was the superior of the two bank holidays for me – I have always been a bigger fan of cue sports than monarchy.

The author hangs out with snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Photo credit: Shakin’ Stevens

Having missed most of the tournament’s initial two weeks due to a lack of free time and waning attention span, I was finally presented with three uninterrupted days of nothing but John Virgo’s dulcet tones and the clack of balls striking together.

Hazel Irvine featured, too.

There is a lesson in this. With my leisure time limited by full-time work during the tournament’s early stages, I had managed to catch just the odd frame here and there.

But with an expansive three-day weekend ahead of me, finally I felt I could sit back, relax, and truly indulge in the pastime which brings me the most pleasure. And all while eating biscuits.

That, for me, is the beauty of the four-day week. A three-day weekend means your time is not so limited that you have nothing left to give after taking care of the usual chores, life admin and obligations.

It means you can catch up with loved ones, cook delicious, nutritious food, spend more time exercising outdoors, and generally create a healthier, happier life for yourself.

Or, it means you can sit in a darkened room watching frame after frame of tentative safety play, with Shaun Murphy’s eloquent lullaby voice putting you in a hypnotic trance and leaving you stuck to the sofa, unable to do anything beyond lifting a can of IPA and hastily made mid-session sandwich to your lips.

The final

The two-day World Championship final was an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride.

Young challenger Luca Brecel took an impressive lead in its early stages, which four-time former champion Mark Selby (AKA the Jester from Leicester) struggled tooth-and-nail to win back.

But even the east-midlander’s flawless 147 break – the first one ever in a World Championship final – was not enough to best the Belgian Bullet.

Mark Selby makes history with the first maximum break ever made in a World Championship final

Brecel was simply too relaxed, too natural and too free to be caught out this time.

It was his sixth visit to the Crucible, but the only time he had ever made it past the first round.

Previously, he had never even won a match in the 17-day long tournament, and yet here he was, in the actual final, battling it out against the several-time world #1 – one of the most talented players ever to have picked up a cue.

And how did he do it? Well, Brecel’s tournament strategy “should not be legal,” he quipped after winning the tournament.

While his competitors agonised over practice tables day in and day out in an effort to stay on form, the young Belgian hardly trained at all over the course of the tournament.

Instead, he celebrated each victory by getting “drunk as hell,” presumably turning up each day with a hangover the likes of which hadn’t been seen at a World Championship since the days of alcohol consumption expert Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

And still, mainland Europe’s first snooker World Champion managed to take home the half-a-million pound prize while becoming the second best-ranked snooker player in the world and making his Belgian compatriots as proud as punch in the process.

There’s definitely a lesson in there, somewhere.

If we could all be just a bit more ‘Luca’ – not let our stresses get the better of us, not take our work home with us at the end of each day and quite simply, allow ourselves to relax a bit more – perhaps we too could be World Champions one day.

I reckon a four-day work week would almost certainly help with that.

After the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything from a flexible working perspective, could a four-day workweek grow beyond an experiment to eventually become standard procedure across the iGaming industry?

Similar to an unlimited paid leave policy, a shortened working week has become a key topic of discussion for many companies. HR managers say it could lead to a better work-life balance, although the iGaming sector might not be ready to take the plunge and adopt the concept.

A few years ago, the idea was considered pretty radical; however, interest in the four-day workweek has been on the rise ever since the Covid-19 pandemic upended how we work and allowed flexible working arrangements to become the norm.

“Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” was the phrase coined by Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropist and labour rights activist Robert Owen in 1817.

However, his vision for a five-day, 40-hour work week was rooted in the industrial age, during a time when most people worked in factories and other manufacturing facilities.

Proponents of the four-day workweek now suggest the traditional working model is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. They argue that both employees and the organisation would benefit from a four-day week.

HappyHour head of people strategy & operations Emily Micallef: “What used to take five hours can now take one hour thanks to automation tools and better resource planning.”

For staff, benefits include a better work-life balance and improved overall health thanks to lower stress levels. This could also result in fewer resignations and absenteeism, while protecting productivity levels, which is primarily what employers are ultimately looking for.

Nay-sayers believe shorter weeks aren’t the solution to a better work-life balance. They say it’s logistically challenging due to the nature and volume of the work, while others worry it’s not economically viable to pay the same salary for fewer days.

With these factors in mind, should the iGaming industry embrace a four-day workweek?

iGaming Next reached out to several members of HR Connect, an association of senior HR decision-makers within Malta’s gaming industry, to find out what they think.

HR Connect regularly carries out surveys to shed light on current trends and developments and to share insight and knowledge among its members.

Emily Micallef, head of people strategy & operations at HappyHour, thinks the four-day workweek can work and would have incredible benefits for a workforce and in terms of attracting talent.

“Technology today has made our work efficiency unprecedented, and we’re executing at a much faster rate than we are used to,” Micallef said.

“What used to take five hours can now take one hour thanks to automation tools and better resource planning – so we could argue in terms of output, we’re working more than we used to and producing better results – so the case for a four-day workweek is there,” she added.

However, she admits that the business-readiness for it depends on the life-stage of the company. “A start-up will differ greatly from an organisation of a 1000+ people,” she said.

She suggested that prior to rolling out such a concept, businesses should analyse the effectiveness of their current operations, determine how such changes would affect their customers and then find solutions to close any gaps.

Christine Hili, head of HR at Rootz, agreed with the positive benefits of a four-day workweek, which according to her also include increased morale and improved mental well-being, as well as enhanced productivity and promoting a greener business due to a reduction in carbon footprint via reduced costs on electricity bills and other utilities.

“However, are we adopting a 32-hour workweek or are we still expecting employees to work 40 hours a week, compressed into four days? If the latter prevails, this would counter all the benefits,” she said.

She instead recommended we redefine the working week from a four-day workweek to a productivity-based week, where the working schedule would fluctuate depending on the tasks in hand during the day.

Rootz head or hr Christine Hili: “Are we adopting a 32-hour workweek or are we still expecting employees to work 40 hours a week compressed into four days? If the latter prevails, this would counter all the benefits.”

“After all, the output which we measure is not time, but how effectively and efficiently employees do their jobs,” she commented.

Meanwhile, Shirley Borg, head of hr at Energy Casino, said: “The four day workweek has been a topic in our company for the past two years; unfortunately, it is proving a bit difficult to implement given the hours of gaming involved, shifts and rosters. This business is 24/7.

“We do not exclude that it may be a possibility in the future. Perhaps also by reducing hours throughout the week,” she added.

The four-day workweek concept is not as new as we might imagine. In the US, the idea was reportedly first floated after Henry Ford introduced the five-day workweek in 1926.

Until that point, Ford’s employees worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. While Ford’s competitors expected heavy productivity losses, Ford’s productivity actually went up.

Given the success of the five-day workweek, there were follow-up calls for a four-day week, although this never materialised at the time.

Jessica Farrugia, people experience manager at KaFe Rocks, which already trials an unlimited leave policy, is also interested in exploring the idea further.

“I can say we would be open to the idea if it’s something our employees want and it doesn’t harm the business,” she said.

The four-day workweek continues to gather momentum, with pilots taking place in various countries, industries and companies.

Spain, Scotland, Iceland, Japan, Belgium and the UAE are just some of the countries that have or have had pilot programmes in the works. The world’s largest trial for the four-day workweek is currently underway in the UK, with 70 participating companies.

Other trials include a nine-day fortnight, where employees get an extra Friday off every two weeks.

Avril Morin, director of people operations at GiG, feels that discussions around the four-day workweek are an opportunity to ask staff what truly matters to them.

“Everyone’s journey to achieving balanced wellbeing is different and personal,” she said, highlighting that GiG has implemented a number of initiatives to support flexible working arrangements.

“Considering that our industry is very competitive and dynamic, working across many timezones with different types of services, including 24/7 shift patterns, we need to keep our inclusion effort and ensure that if we were going that route, this would be the right decision for everyone and that it would be something realistic to implement,” she concluded.

HR managers also said that while there has been a lot of talk about the four-day workweek, there is not yet enough data to support the prospect.

Although iGaming companies and the tech sector in general has a reputation for offering employees a wide range of benefits to attract and retain staff, a four-day workweek is not yet on the horizon.