Can shorter working weeks be successful?

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Spain’s leftist Sumar party has asked for social policies such as reducing weekly working hours in exchange for backing socialist Pedro Sanchez’s bid to secure another mandate as Prime Minister. This would not be Spain’s first attempt to implement a 4-day work week, the country having previously agreed to pilot a 32-hour work week back in 2021.

The Arguments:

One main push behind a shorter working week is the idea that technology makes work tasks more efficient. Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and software that makes automation easier are just a few examples of ways businesses can cut down on their workload.

Conversations around the four-day workweek have been going on for a long time, but the idea was reignited by the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers and employers rethinking the importance of workplace flexibility and benefits.

Advocates for the four-day workweek suggest that when implemented, worker satisfaction increases, and so does productivity.

“The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time”, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said.

Opponents of a four day week suggest that it will increase costs for businesses and reduce competitiveness against other countries.

The Facts:

Belgium became the first country in Europe to legislate for a four-day week. The new law came into force on November 21 last year, allowing employees to decide whether to work four or five days a week. However, this does not mean that they will be working less, their only viable option being that of condensing their working hours into fewer days.

The idea of a four-day workweek is catching on in some parts of the world. An increasing number of businesses and organizations are now trialing and moving permanently to a four-day working week of around 32 hours, with no less pay for workers.

However, some critics say that the trials have not provided rigorous evidence that a four-day workweek won’t hurt productivity. Research published in June by the National Bureau of Economic Research that looked at patterns of work in the U.S. from 1973 to 2018 has shown that workers on four-day weeks earn less than otherwise demographically identical workers in the same industry who work the same hours, suggesting that there is indeed some hit to productivity.

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