Have you dreamed of working only 4 days a week? Some countries have taken the leap, others are still too cautious. And there are countries that are cautiously trying to do so. World tour in the 4-day week, its advantages as well as its difficulties.
No country has yet generalized the 4-day week at national level, but the system is being implemented in more and more companies. If it is attractive for many employees to work only 4 days each week, it is not without consequences. That is why some countries and their legislation do not rush into it.
Iceland is the first country to adopt the 4-day week en masse
Iceland considered a leader in the four-day work week. It all started in 2015, when the country launched the largest pilot project of a 35-36 hour week (reduced from the traditional 40 hours). 2,500 people participate in this life-size test. In 2019, the results are decisive and the project is qualified as a success. The unions began negotiations to reduce working hours, and the movement became widespread. Today, almost 90% of the working population now benefits from reduced working hours or other schemes. Researchers found that workers’ stress and burnout decreased and work-life balance improved.
Belgium and Spain follow suit
In 2022, Spain launches in the experiment with the four-day week: 200 small and medium-sized companies test the reduction to 32 hours of weekly working time, over four days and without reducing wages. The project will last 3 years and cost around 50 million euros. The productivity comparison with companies working over 5 days will be scrutinized. Today, large Spanish companies such as Telefonica or Desigual already practice the 4-day week.
The Belgian Parliament, meanwhile, voted at the end of September 2022 for a reform of the labor market, including the possibility that employees can work full-time over four days instead of five. But the approach is criticized because, according to the unions, there is no question of reducing working hours, which fluctuate between 38 and 40 hours a week.
UK and Ireland launch a 6-month trial period
In Great Britain and Ireland, a 6-month test was launched in June 2022. In the UK, 70 companies and 3,300 employees are concerned. The first results, published in September, are considered positive: 88% of test companies declared that the 4-day week worked “well” at this stage. 86% of them responded that they would “probably” or “extremely likely” consider retaining this organization at the end of the trial period. In Ireland, at least 17 organizations of different sizes and from different sectors have joined the initiative.
4-day week: big companies test it all over the world
From November 14, 2022, hundreds of Unilever Group employees in Australia and in Argentina begins on the 4-day week, after an 18-month positive trial in New Zealand. “We experienced strong business results and noted high employee engagement. Staff are happier and more motivated. The time spent in meetings has also decreased” explains a Unilever official in the press. In New Zealand, researchers found during the Unilever test a decrease in absenteeism, emails sent and time spent in meetings (less 3.5 hours per person per week).
In France, a few companies have started including Yprema which has been operating over 4 days since 1999. More recently LDLC, Welcome to the Jungle and Elmy have started. All sectors combined, the four-day week is now only adopted by 5% of French companies.
Some countries are more mixed on 4 day work week
Experimentation does not always convince countries. The most telling example is Sweden. The country tested the 4-day working week with unchanged pay in 2015. The results were mixed, but above all, the proposal to spend money on this trial did not please all parliamentarians at the time.
All over the world, several arguments are put forward against the 4-day week. In Spain, Parliamentarians regularly explain that the shortened week would be a process “inapplicable in many sectors of activity. “.
Another negative argument, many companies are reluctant to start because of the implementation. The rearrangement of the tasks does not happen from one day to the next, because the process necessarily requires time and adaptations. The organization of certain countries makes it difficult to generalize the shortened week, which in Germany, where issues of working hours and wages are negotiated directly between trade unions and companies, without the government intervening.
Countries not ready to switch to the shortened week
in swiss, the shortened week is struggling to establish itself, but part-time work is a widespread alternative: in 2020, 35% of women and 12% of men worked between 50 and 90% of full occupancy. A few small and medium-sized companies are getting started, like Seerow, who are testing the 4-day week for 6 months. The biggest obstacle seems to be the population’s skepticism about working less.
In Japan, large groups such as Panasonic and Nippon Denki or Hitachi offer flexible hours where all their employees can only work four days a week. But these measures are not at all unanimous because they confront the deep-rooted work culture and the sacrifice of private life. The Japanese are not ready.