Four-day week

31. January 2020, Editorial

The downside of digitalisation is that we are always reachable, can work from anywhere and are only rarely able to take a step back from our jobs. Heavy workloads, lots of pressure and an inability to switch off are often the consequences. But there are also some pretty bright upsides too, including flexible working practices, home office solutions and a better work-life balance. The idea of a four-day working week is a hot topic right now, as people look for ways to maximise the potential and minimise the drawbacks.


flexible working practices
home office solutions
work-life balance

Long weekend? Yes please!

Something that people fought for and unions demanded not so long ago  is already starting to look seriously behind the times: the 40-hour working week. Now, researchers and politicians are calling for the working week to be cut from five to four days, with wages left untouched. The old model that our grandparents and parents grew up with seems to have run its course and no longer matches expectations in the modern world.

Generation Y – aka millenn ials – which is currently establishing itself in the labour market, and will significantly shape the way we work, has a reputation for being lazy and workshy, avoiding responsibilities at every available turn. So the four-day working week should be right up these digital natives’ street. Under this new model, daily working hours go up to 10, without accumulating overtime. And there is no reason for the four days to be consecutive; they can also be interspersed with a day off. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Take a break

We’ve never had any doubts about it: breaks are good! These days, there’s no shortage of best practices to deliver surprisingly good results, which are summed up as follows: “You have to take more breaks if you want to achieve more.” In the summer of 2019, Microsoft Japan successfully carried out a four-day week test and was quick to report on the positive outcomes: according to Microsoft, employee productivity jumped by around 40%.

There are also isolated cases in Austria where the concept has been introduced: on 1 October 2017 the team at Latschenbrennerei Unterweger, a producer of natural cosmetics in Tyrol, switched to working from Monday to Thursday only, without any drop in pay. This change led to an appreciable rise in productivity and revenue in the first half of the year. “The periods at the start and finish of the working day are the times that are least productive. As result, we tried to extend the workday to improve productivity,” its boss Michael Unterweger told the Austrian National Broadcasting Corporation ORF in summer 2018.

What’s more, the total number of hours worked during the week only drops from 38 to 36, as employees stay two hours longer on each of the four days.
But these examples aren’t isolated examples: the Grafinger sawmill in Grünau, and bookstore and media chain Thalia introduced more flexible working times some time ago, and successfully so, according to their reports. So, in summary, employees work four days a week without taking a pay cut, leaving them free to enjoy their three-day weekends. All of which enhances quality of life and helps to deliver revenue and productivity gains.

Back to reality

But what might sound like the realms of fantasy here in Austria could soon become reality in Finland. Finland’s new premier Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest head of government at just 34 years of age, has touched upon the idea of a four-day week. What is unusual, though, is that Marin also sees a six-hour working day as important: “A four-day work week, a six-hour workday. Why couldn’t it be the next step? Is eight hours really the ultimate truth? 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 six-hour workday has already proved its viability in a number of sectors in neighbouring Sweden. Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, reduced working hours in the state hospital and old people’s homes to six hours a day – on full salary. The outcome? Employees were happier, healthier and more productive.
The six-hour day has also been working well in the nation’s tech industry for many years. One case in point, automotive giant Toyota, leads the way, having switched its Gothenburg plant over to shorter workdays at full pay back in 2003.

All’s well that ends well?

The model offers plenty of plus points for both sides. Employees have more free time at their disposal for family, childcare, hobbies and other activities. And employers can expect regular 10-hour workdays without having to shell out for overtime. However, they have to be prepared to bring a certain degree of creativity to their scheduling and have good organisation skills so that everything runs smoothly. Overall, the four-day working week is good news all round. But who knows whether we will be adopting this concept and enjoying three-day weekends any time soon. Until then we’ll have to make do with public holidays.

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