Career and Jobs

Spain Is The Latest Country To Try A Four-Day Workweek

Prior to the pandemic, a number of companies around the world have experimented with a four-day workweek. The momentum for this movement subsided, as Covid-19 raged throughout the world and almost everyone was forced to work from home. Now that we’re starting to seriously consider what the new work world will look like, the topic has been resurfacing. 

Spain has announced that it will experiment with a trial four-day workweek, according to the Guardian. The Spanish government agreed to a 32-hour workweek over three years, without cutting workers’ compensation. The Washington Post reported, “The pilot program is intended to reduce employers’ risk by having the government make up the difference in salary when workers switch to a four-day schedule.” It will invest around 50 million euros ($60 million) toward the costs of the pilot program for the companies that want to participate. It’s anticipated that around 200 companies and from 3,000 to 6,000 workers will be involved with the project. 

Íñigo Errejón Galván, a Spanish political scientist and politician, serving as a member of the 14th Congress of Deputies, said, “With the four-day workweek (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times.” Galván added, “It’s an idea whose time has come. Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better.”

The concept has been met with some criticism. Galván is affiliated with a leftist party and Spain’s business leaders have called the project “madness,” in light of the current economic situation, and believe “getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less.” 

This has been tried before. Sanna Marin, a Finnish politician who has been the prime minister of Finland since December 2019, previously promoted shortening the amount of time people work. Marin put forth the idea of companies adopting a flexible six-hour day and a four-day workweek at a panel discussion before she became prime minister. Marin said, “I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.”

The concept gained considerable attention throughout Finland, Europe and other parts of the world. It was misreported in some outlets that the shorter workweek was to become government policy. A spokesperson for Marin said that the idea was “more of a future vision and a potential future goal for the Social Democratic Party.” The prime minister also meant that it would either be a four-day workweek or six-hour day—not both. 

Finland has tried various working strategies over the last few decades. One of the more interesting acts the Nordic nation has passed was the Working Hours Pact back in 1996. This policy gave employees the ability to shift their working hours to suit their lifestyle by commencing or completing their responsibilities three hours earlier or later than the standard work hours.  

Sweden, Finland’s next-door neighbor, completed a trial program—in one of its largest cities—of a six-hour workday, while still maintaining the compensation level of an eight-hour day. The program took place in a government-run retirement home in 2015 and yielded mixed results. The shortened hours made workers happier and healthier, but deemed too expensive and complicated to be implemented all throughout Sweden. With employees working fewer hours, the retirement home needed to hire additional staff to make up for the gap in coverage. The increased compensation costs rendered the plan impractical to continue.

Unilever, a British multinational consumer goods company, headquartered in London, previously  embarked upon a test of the four-day workweek. The food and consumer-staples giant chose New Zealand as the test-case location. This study is the natural progression of experimenting with different types of work and life accommodations. 

The employees will be compensated for a full five days, although they’re only working for four. Nick Bangs, the managing director of Unilever in New Zealand, said, “We hope the trial will result in Unilever being the first global company to embrace ways of working that provide tangible benefits for staff and for business.” The company wants to alter the manner in which work is accomplished. Bangs won’t increase the hours to compensate for the lost day of work. He said the company will have “compressed schedules with full pay, as the University of Technology Sydney in Australia helps track their progress.” The managing director stated, “We don’t want our team to have really long days, but to bring material change in the way they work.” After 12 months, the company will assess the situation and consider rolling it out to its over 150,000 employees around the world. 

In addition to a four-day workweek, companies have tried shorter work days. In the private sector, a boutique German-based e-commerce company, Digital Enabler, experimented with an abbreviated work schedule. CEO Lasse Rheingans wanted to test his theory that if an employee intently focuses on their job without distractions, they could complete their tasks within a five-hour work period. 

This came with a little catch. Rheingans ran a tight ship and required phones to be locked away during the day, social media was prohibited, interoffice small talk and getting in touch with family and friends outside of the office was forbidden. At first, the employees were pleased. As time progressed, they felt pressured to accomplish their assignments in less time, deprived of outside contact and uncomfortable working nonstop without any real breaks.  

In the United States, Tower Paddle Boards, based in San Diego, tried a five-hour workday. Stephan Aarstol, the company’s CEO, penned a piece in Thrive Global last year, extolling the virtues of a shortened work day. “Just because you’re at your desk for eight hours doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Even the best employees probably only accomplish two-to-three hours of actual work. The five-hour day is about managing human energy more efficiently by working in bursts over a shorter period,” Aarstol wrote. He claimed that having less time creates periods of heightened productivity and a five-hour workday is forced time management.

Similar to the outcome at Digital Enabler, Aarstol now claims that the experiment was initially a success, but then the employees enjoyed their time off a little too much. He subsequently changed the program to only the summer months. Aarstol lamented that the work ethic suffered and the company lost its startup culture. 

Microsoft Japan experimented with a shorter work program, called “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer.” The company gave its 2,300 employees the opportunity to “choose a variety of flexible work styles, according to the circumstances of work and life.” The goal of management was to see if there would be a corresponding increase in productivity and morale when hours are cut down.  

Japan, similar to the U.S., exemplifies a strong culture of hard work. Employees also demonstrate a strong devotion to their company. The results of the experiment indicated that workers were happier and there was also a 40% gain in productivity.

Prior to the outbreak, only a small percentage of employees worked remotely. Within months, the vast majority of white-collar professionals set up offices in their homes. This pivot away from the office was necessary to ensure that the virus wouldn’t be spread by people commuting and collaborating together at work. One year later, it’s clear that the remote work experiment was a success. It’s only reasonable that a four-day workweek or allowing abbreviated hours each day is worth trying too. We may also find out that these programs make people more productive and much happier.

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