The once far-fetched concept of a 4-day workweek is now rapidly gaining traction. Is it on its way to become the new normal at work?
Is 2023 on the brink to become the year of the 4-day week? This idea is clearly no longer reserved for dreamers or visionaries. More and more people are embracing it, right up to the highest level. Nicolas Schmit is proof of this. The European Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights recently spoke out in favor of the idea, not least because "the new generations have a certain vision of work-life balance". And he suggests encouraging the third day of weekly rest, applying it first in sectors experiencing labor shortages. "As some sectors have difficulty attracting [employees], perhaps they also need to become more attractive", he stresses.
An analysis corroborated by feedback from the field. Flexibility at work (4-day week, remote jobs, etc.) is now a strong demand among employees. A YouGov/Huffington Post poll showed that 75% of those questioned said they were in favor of switching to a 4-day week, on condition, however, that their salary remained unchanged. It's a wish that's shared by everyone. Hence, the growing number of experiments revolving around the 4-day working week.
For Canadian Joe O'Connor, co-founder and director of the Work Time Reduction Center of excellence, this is hardly surprising. O'Connor, who has led numerous pilots around the world on this issue, is categorical:
"Employees have emerged from the pandemic with heightened expectations regarding what constitutes an acceptable balance between work and life, and the collective experience of society during COVID-19 has led to a greater priority being given to the value of time as a benefit. As a result, the 4-day week consistently polls among the public as one of the most, if not the most attractive employment benefits in workforce sentiment surveys."
The 4-day working week, a solution to attract top talents
But the appetite for the 4-day working week doesn't stop with employees alone. A growing number of business leaders see it, among other things, as a solution to the recruitment crisis that is hitting them. "Employers are attracted to it primarily as a source of differentiation in a competitive labor market, which can give them an edge when it comes to keeping their best people and attracting top talent," confirms Joe O'Connor. It can also provide a strong incentive and catalyst to boost productivity and efficiency, through streamlining operations, changing work practices and improving processes."
While Portugal is about to launch its own experiment, trials have already taken place in a number of countries, and the list is growing all the time. It includes a majority of western countries such as the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But others, such as the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Brazil, are also concerned, proving that the subject is now global.
And what about the outcome? "In the world's largest such trial recently carried out in the UK, a strong indication of success can be garnered from the fact that 56 out of the 61 participating companies decided to continue with the policy after the trial period. Their revenue also rose by 35% year-on-year, and over the trial period itself, employee turnover dropped by 57% and absenteeism by 65%, says Joe O'Connor. And from an employee perspective, statistically significant improvements across a range of employee wellbeing indicators were observed among those participating in the trial, including people sleeping longer and better."
Working better, not necessarily less
As the 4-day work week gains momentum all over the world, is it on its way to becoming the new normal (or a facet of it) in the working world?
It could be. Provided we don't go about it the wrong way. Flexible working doesn't necessarily mean working less, but working better. The 4-day week will not necessarily mean a reduction in weekly working hours. This means that daily working hours could actually increase. This challenge could prove difficult to meet, particularly for jobs that are particularly strenuous.
That's why we'll also need to be flexible in its implementation. Nothing would be more counterproductive than imposing a single model from above. As European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit points out, the 4-day working week "is something that will be achieved on the basis of agreements between the social partners"1.
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