The five-day workweek model was officially formed in 1932 in the United States as an attempt to avoid the need to lay off employees in the Great Depression.
Almost at the same time, the system was introduced across the Atlantic – in Britain.
Now another crisis, the coronavirus pandemic with its consequences for the organization of labor, has led to growing calls for a new change: four days of work, separated by three days of rest. On the one hand, the mass shift to teleworking in the last two years has changed perceptions of work efficiency, working time flexibility, and work-life balance. On the other hand, the desire to reduce costs for happier and healthier, and therefore more productive employees, and last but not least, the search for ways to retain skilled professionals amid mass labor shortages, has had an impact. hand.
The idea is that employees could work four days a week instead of five, doing the same job for the same pay, but in fewer working hours, or the same number of hours “compressed” in fewer of our working hours. It is also expected that this regime will work with fewer meetings and more independence.
Proponents of the scheme say it will boost employee job satisfaction and efficiency. EU unions are also urging governments to consider this.
Great Britain with a test program from June
In a few days, Britain will launch a six-month pilot program, the largest of its kind to date. Since January, companies have been recruiting to join to study the impact of fewer working hours on workers’ productivity and well-being, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.
About 3,000 employees in 60 companies will be covered by the program, which begins in early June and runs through December. It will be conducted by researchers from Cambridge, Oxford, and Boston College, as well as from the NGOs “4 Day Week Global”, “4 Day Week Campaign in the UK” and the British think tank “Otonomi” ”(Authonomy).
According to the planned reform, employees will be able to work up to 9.5 hours each day (or working hours from 9 am to 6.30 pm), which means “cramming” the full length of the normal working week into four longer days to have after this with a three-day weekend.
Belgium already has this opportunity
Belgium has already introduced the possibility for employees to choose whether to take “five for four” days. Prime Minister Alexander de Croy expressed hope that the reform could make the country’s labor system more flexible and make it easier for people to find a work-life balance. The new model could also create greater dynamism in the economy. “The goal is to give people and companies more freedom in the organization of working time,” he was quoted as saying by Euronews.
It is hoped that such an opportunity will “attract” more people to companies. Belgium has a significant problem with employment – in 2021 the employment rate in the country is 65.3 percent – well below the EU average of 73.5 percent, according to Eurostat. However, the prospect of a four-day working week is far from suitable for everyone. Some full-time and shift workers, for example, simply will not be able to take advantage of this flexibility.
Iceland – one of the leaders
Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted the world’s largest pilot project for a working week lasting 35 to 36 hours (reduced from the traditional 40), without any calls for a corresponding reduction in wages, recalls Euronews ”.
About 2,500 people took part in the test phase, and to ensure quality control, the results were analyzed by the British think tank Otonomy and the local NGO Association for Sustainability and Democracy (ALDA).
The pilot project was hailed as a success by researchers, and Icelandic unions subsequently managed to negotiate a reduction in working hours. Already nearly 90 percent of the country’s population benefits from reduced working hours or other labor benefits.
Researchers have found that this rhythm reduces stress and “burnout” of workers, as well as improves work-life balance. However, not all governments share Iceland’s success.
Mixed reactions in Sweden, fake news from Finland
In Sweden, a four-day working week with full pay was tested in 2015 with mixed results. The proposal provided for six hours a day instead of eight, while maintaining the number wages. Not everyone was happy with the idea of spending money on this test, and even the far-left parties said it would be too expensive to introduce this regime on a larger scale. There were still positive results. For example, the orthopedic department of a university hospital transferred 80 nurses and doctors on a 6-hour workday and hired new staff to cover the missing shift hours. The response from medics was yes, but the experiment garnered much criticism and was not renewed. However, some companies, such as Toyota, have decided to keep shorter working hours for their employees.
Finland has not introduced a four-day working week, despite allegations to the contrary. Earlier this year, the northern European country briefly made headlines in the international media after reports emerged that it had cut working hours sharply. It was alleged that the Finnish government wanted to introduce a four-day working week with a six-hour working day. However, it turned out to be fake news, which the government had to refute. Prime Minister Sana Marin tweeted that the government had such an idea in August 2019, but after that, the issue was never included in the government’s agenda.
Experiments in Germany
Surprisingly, Germany has one of the shortest working weeks in Europe. According to the World Economic Forum, the average working week in the country is only 34.2 hours, and unions are pushing for it to be even shorter. Last year, IG Metall, the country’s largest union, called for shorter working weeks, arguing that it would help preserve jobs and avoid layoffs.
According to a study by the Forsa Institute, 71 percent of workers in Germany would like to have the option to work only four days a week.
Just over three-quarters of respondents say they support the government exploring the potential for a four-day workweek.
More than two-thirds of employers support the idea. A significant majority of 75 percent are convinced that a four-day workweek would be desirable for workers, with 59 percent saying employers are likely to be able to afford such a scheme. Almost half of the employers (46 percent) said they would try to introduce a four-day workweek. So far, smaller startups are experimenting with a shorter workweek.
The timid experience of Spain
Spain is taking timid first steps after a small far-left party announced earlier this year that the government has accepted its request to launch a modest pilot program for companies interested in the idea.
About 6,000 employees in 200 small and medium-sized companies will be able to extend their weekend by one day, keeping their full pay. Negotiations are underway, but it is not yet clear when the one-year trial program could begin.
Asia is considering the possibility
In other countries, such as Japan, large companies are experimenting with the idea after the Japanese government announced a plan in 2021 to achieve a better work-life balance.
There are several reasons for this to be beneficial for the country, where deaths from occupational overload are common, for which there is even a special word (“karoshi”). Over time employees can often become ill due to too much work or develop suicidal tendencies.
In 2019, technology giant Microsoft is experimenting with the model, offering its employees three-day weekends for one month. This has increased productivity by 40 percent and led to more efficient work, the company said. The Hitachi conglomerate announced in April that it was introducing a four-day workweek for about 15,000 employees in the current fiscal year, and game developer Game Freak, known for the Pokemon series, said. that he has already introduced the system to some employees, writes the Japanese newspaper “Nicaea”. Other big names such as Panasonic and NEC are considering similar measures.
Other countries in the region, known for long working hours and low productivity, are also turning to the idea. In India, Alami last year allowed its employees to work four days a week in an attempt to improve their mental health and productivity. South Korean educational services company Eduwill adopted the system in 2019, claiming it was the first in the sector. This inspired one of the candidates in the March presidential election to include a four-day workweek among his key priorities.
India is preparing to introduce large-scale labor legislation this year, which will cover working hours and wages. Employees are expected to have the option of working four days a week, although the total number of working hours per week will remain unchanged (around 48), according to local media.
In China, however, the Ministry of Human Resources rejected proposals by lawmakers to work 4.5 days or 36 hours a week, citing higher costs of pressure on companies.
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