The four-day workweek may seem like a mere dream, but it is a reality for some, the maszol.ro news portal pointed out in a recent piece. The four-day workweek has been a topic of discussion among human resource professionals and economists for quite some time now. So far, experiments have shown that employees who have three days off a week work better.
The first experiment was led by the government of Iceland and the municipality of Reykjavik. Between 2015 and 2019, 2,500 civil servants worked only four days a week, 35–36 hours, for the same pay as before.
The evaluation of the results was recently published by a British think tank called Autonomy and the Icelandic Association for Sustainable Democracy (ALDA); according to their assessment, productivity was maintained and, in some cases, even increased. Workers felt less stressed out and reported an improvement in their health and better work-life balance. As a result, many unions have renegotiated working hours so that 86 percent of Icelandic employees already work less for the same amount of pay.
“The experiment has shown that the public sector is ripe to become a pioneer in the introduction of a shorter workweek, and other governments can learn from these results,” research director at Autonomy, Will Stronge, said.
In Spain, the viability of the idea will be soon tested in the private sector: A number of companies plan to introduce the four-day workweek on a pilot basis starting this autumn. The project will take place over three years: In the first year, the government will fully compensate the participating companies for the losses caused by the missing working day; in the second, the government will reimburse half of the amount; and in the third year, it will pay for 33 percent of any losses. The initiators hope that approximately 3,000–6,000 employees from 200 companies take part in the pilot project.
The planned experiment is not popular with everyone. For instance, Ricardo Murr, president of the largest Spanish business association, called it downright insane. “Recovering from the crisis requires more work, not less,” the businessman said in December 2020.
The Spanish project would not be the first of its kind in the private sector, as a similar one has already taken place at Microsoft’s Tokyo offices. During August 2019, the staff only had to go into the office four days a week, Fridays were free. The results were encouraging, with productivity 40 percent higher than before, energy consumption down 23 percent, and the number of documents printed lower by 58 percent. Moreover, 92 percent of the employees involved had positive feedback about the four-day workweek.
Currently, one of the world’s largest companies, Unilever, is conducting a similar experiment in New Zealand. The project involving 81 Unilever employees started in December 2020 and will end in December this year. The company’s central management will evaluate the pilot work schedule and then decide whether to continue it and possibly introduce it in branches elsewhere.
“In Romania, for the time being, the four-day workweek is just a dream,” Miklós Levente Bagoly, the president of the association of small and medium-sized businesses from Szeklerland’s Háromszék region (Asimcov), told Maszol. As the entrepreneur pointed out, productivity is not yet on a level where a four-day workweek can be afforded. “The condition for reducing working hours would be an appropriate level of technology, which requires capital, but with the current tax system, capitalization is not progressing,” the businessman noted.
According to Jácint Juhász, assistant professor of economy at the Babeş-Bolyai University of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), the change is not yet feasible, but it is on the horizon. In the short term, the missing working day cannot be compensated by increasing productivity, as more workers would be needed, and there is currently a labor shortage in Romania, the economist said. In his view, the solution could be a gradual reduction of the Friday working hours. “A few decades ago, the five-day working week also seemed like science fiction. In the long run, the world is indeed moving in the direction of the four-day workweek,” the assistant professor said.
Nevertheless, as incredible as it is, there is a company in Transylvania where employees work four days a week, and not on an experimental basis. On March 15 this year at the Tig-Rad System in Gyergyószentmiklós, after a consultation with employees, management decided to implement a shortened workweek. However, the total number of working hours did not decrease: Employees still work 40 hours per week, having a 10-hour workday.
“It is economically sustainable, and the work atmosphere is better at the company than it was before. Moreover, we were able to hire seven new colleagues who came to us specifically for the three days off. The administration also works four days a week,” company manager Tibor Bajkó told Maszol. He added that the company also underwent a labor inspection, and the four-day workweek was found to be legal. According to the manager, the practice will catch on, although it cannot be applied everywhere, for instance, in the services sector.
Title image: HR professionals and economists are still debating the issue, but experiments so far show that employees who have three days off a week work better and more productively