Initially introduced in Europe in 1990, the 4-day week has recently made a comeback in some European countries. Employees keep the same salary but condense or reduce their working hours.
The 4-day week: less productivity or condensed hours?
Contrary to what we might think, the 4-day week has existed in France since 1996, with the Robien law, which suggested moving to 32 hours with the obligation to recruit at least 10% of employees on permanent contracts.
Reduced working time would have allowed companies to reduce their social security contributions. The Aubry law and the switch to the 35-hour week replaced the law.
Companies that want to implement this 4-day system have two options: the first is reducing the number of hours per week, going from 35 to 32.
The second option is increasing the number of hours worked per day, splitting the 35 hours across 4 days, with employees working 9.5 hours each day instead of 8. These companies would have to limit their meetings and encourage independent work.
This system has two objectives: on the one hand, employees would benefit from a long weekend and gain a better work-life balance. On the other hand, the quality and productivity of their work would improve.
Energy savings could also be another objective of this model. The current energy crisis may well increase the adoption of this working week, much like Covid did for working from home. By reducing the number of days, employers would obviously reduce energy consumption.
Promising results around the world
While Spain and the UK are still in the testing phase, Belgium took the plunge in October and officially adopted the 4-day week. However, the Belgian government has opted to condense working hours.
On 29 September 2022, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives approved the “employment deal”. The government offered the choice between 4 or 5 days working for 35 hours, keeping the same workload.
However, company managers must approve the switch to a 4-day week, or if they refuse, they must give reasons. Employees can alternate between a 4- and 5-day working week depending on their personal obligations.
In the UK, a test phase has been underway for the past 6 months since June 2022, with positive initial results. 88% of companies are happy with this new set-up, and 86% of them plan to keep it after the initial trial period.
Spain is also currently experimenting with a 32-hour working week with 40 hours’ pay. 40,200 companies are participating in the test which runs until 2025. This experiment was inspired by the Icelandic model without pay loss, which was tested from 2015 to 2019. The model’s results were conclusive, with increased productivity and employee well-being.
This setup is not very common in France but is beginning to prove its worth in Europe. Does the French labor market need reforming?
Does it have a future in France?
Although the 4-day week has long been a topic of discussion in France, it has yet to gain unanimous support from companies and politicians.
The People At Work 2022 study revealed that 64% of French employees would like more flexibility in how they organize their working hours with the possibility of condensing them into 4 working days.
Furthermore, 27% of employees would be willing to accept a pay cut in exchange for more flexible working hours, while only 19% of companies have a flexitime policy in place.
Only 5% of French companies have adopted the 4-day week thanks to the 1996 Robien law. However, France’s former Labour Minister, Elisabeth Borne, said that “imposing such a measure” was impossible and that companies should be given a choice.
One of the companies to have adopted this system is the LDLC group, which has seen an increase in the productivity of its employees according to its president, Laurent de la Clergerie.
Welcome to The Jungle worked together with a consulting firm and a company specializing in well-being at work to adopt this model in 2019. One of the main results of this approach is that reducing the number of working days from 5 to 4 has not lowered production.
But this system’s efficiency and appeal do not necessarily make it easy to implement. It’s still too restrictive to be implemented in some sectors. Nevertheless, will we soon see it in France? Time will tell.