The 4-day work system first took root in Iceland, Sweden and other Nordic countries. After the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, people’s work and life patterns were forced to change, and more and more countries began to re-examine the old 5-day-a-week, 8-hour-a-day working system.
According to British media reports, the 4-day work system is becoming more and more popular in Germany, France, Spain and other countries. A new Belgian law that came into force in November last year allows workers to switch to a four-day workday without reducing their wages. Most notable, however, was of course the world’s largest four-day work experiment in the UK last year.
What kind of changes will “do 4 breaks and 3” bring about?
Large-scale trials in the UK
From June to December 2022, a 4-day work trial will be implemented in the UK. Some employees who took part in the trial have reported feeling happier, healthier and performing better at work.
Lisa Gilbert, loan servicing manager at Charity Bank, an ethical lender in southern England, said the new working day had been “amazingly effective”.
Gilbert has to take care of her son and elderly parents, and the extra day off each week allows her to spend more time with her family instead of having to go shopping at 6 a.m. on Saturdays. Now she doesn’t have to keep saying “I can’t” to her family. Although the new system had only been trialled for more than a month at the time, Gilbert had already concluded that the program had completely “changed lives.”
The six-month trial in the UK involved 3,300 employees at more than 70 companies. During the trial period, they will work according to the rhythm of the “100-80-100 model”, that is, to pay employees 100% of the salary, and to exchange 80% of the working hours for 100% of the work efficiency.
The project is being carried out by the non-profit organization Global 4-Day Week, British think tank Autonomy and the British 4-Day Week Movement, in conjunction with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College in the United States. Researchers measured the impact of new working models on productivity levels, gender equality, the environment, and employee well-being. At the end of November 2022, companies can decide at their own discretion whether to continue the new work schedule.
In February, Global 4-Day Workweek published the findings of the large trial in the UK.
Joe Lyle, head of the “Global 4-day working week”, pointed out to the UAE “National”: “In almost all cases, the productivity of the company has been maintained or even increased.” , Employees’ sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and workplace burnout were all significantly reduced. Compared with the same period of the previous year, the number of sick leave decreased by 67%, and the employee turnover rate decreased by 57%. Employees spend more time with their families, and 73% of them say they are more satisfied with their lives. The proportion of men caring for children has also increased significantly, and the increase is twice as high as that of women.
It is not only the employees who benefit, the 4-day work system not only did not cause losses to the company, but instead increased the company’s income. Since the workload has not decreased, most employees have increased their productivity in order to complete tasks in a timely manner. On average, revenue per company rose 1.4% over the half-year. Compared with the same period in 2021, the company’s revenue has increased by an average of 35%.
At least 56 of the 61 companies that participated in the survey confirmed that they would continue with the four-day work week, with 18 of them making the policy a permanent change.
It’s not just the number of days that has changed
”Doing 4 off 3″ is not as simple as it sounds.
There are two main models of the 4-day work week. One is that the working hours per week will be changed from 40 hours to 32 hours, the working days will be changed from 5 days to 4 days, and the remuneration will remain the same. The other is that the total number of working hours per week remains unchanged, and the working days become 4 days, so that the daily working hours will change from 8 hours to 10 hours. The first type hopes to use 80% of the working time and 100% work efficiency to obtain 100% of the work income, and the second type only shortens the number of working days, while the working time and work efficiency remain unchanged. The UK implements the first.
The shift brought about by the four-day workweek has not been easy. Samantha Losey, managing director of London-based communications firm Unity, told CNN that the first week was “really chaotic” and that her team wasn’t prepared for the shorter handoffs.
But a month later, her team found a way to make the new system work. Later, the company stipulated that internal meetings should not exceed 5 minutes, and all customer meetings should be limited to 30 minutes. It also introduced a “traffic light” system to prevent unnecessary interruptions. “Traffic lights” are set on everyone’s desks, if employees want to talk, set it to “green light”, if they are busy but can talk, set it to “yellow light”, if they don’t want to be interrupted, set it to “yellow” Set to “Red Light”.
By week 4, Losey said, her team was on track. But she also admitted it was “absolutely” possible she could return to the five-day workweek if productivity levels dipped over the course of the six-month trial.
In fact, Iceland implemented a 4-year 4-day work system experiment from 2015 to 2019. This experiment included 2,500 employees in more than 100 types of workplaces such as hospitals, offices, kindergartens, and social services. The study found that employees experienced improved health and significantly reduced stress and anxiety.
According to a 2021 report in the British edition of Wired magazine, the Icelandic trial is actually the second model, which is to reduce the working week from 40 hours to 35 or 36 hours. This model does not strictly dictate the number of working days in the week. Some people have the option to spend the remainder of the day, but this project is about understanding the impact of reduced working hours, not specifically implementing a four-day workweek.
The union did succeed in reducing working hours after trialing the new system, but only by 13 minutes a day for some public sector workers and 35 minutes a week for shop workers. As Gumundo Hallosson, a researcher at the Association for Sustainable Development and Democracy (Alda) and one of the authors of the study, points out, it is the British who are really interested in the four-day work week, while the Icelanders only want to talk about shortening the working day. working hours.
The author of the article, Nicole Kirby, also pointed out that while the increase in productivity made up for the reduction in working hours, not all jobs can be completed in shorter shifts. The Icelandic government has to hire more medical workers at a cost of 24.2 million pounds (about 220 million yuan) per year. This amount is nothing in the general government budget, but it also reminds people that shortening working hours does not fully guarantee 100% productivity.
The 4-day working system not only did not cause losses to the company, but increased the company’s income.
Overall, though, the impact of reduced working hours is no different for Iceland and the UK. Businesses and employees have responded similarly, mostly cutting meetings short or avoiding some by sending emails, while ditching some routinely unnecessary tasks.
The Hidden Worry of the “Class Gap”
Although the implementation of the four-day working system in some European countries has been unexpectedly successful, voices of concern have not disappeared. British Marxist economist Mike Roberts and the Trade Union Confederation (TUC) are both concerned that the four-day work week may be a privilege for some, creating a “class divide”.
Roberts published an article on his personal website and pointed out that the decline of the traditional nine-to-five working model does not mean that working hours have been reduced. In contrast, in the United States and European countries, the phenomenon of working nights, early mornings or weekends is increasing. 12-hour shifts are still common for jobs like paramedics, drivers and security guards. In 2015, 21% of EU workers worked shifts, compared to 15% in 2005. Due to long and irregular hours, shift workers are at higher risk of mental, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases.
Rather than the benediction of conscientious bosses or sympathetic governments, shorter working hours have always been at the heart of the trade union movement.
Although the British Federation of Trade Unions supports the fight for a 4-day working system, it emphasizes that the prerequisite must be “reasonable wages.” The organization has 54 trade unions with 6.2 million members. The Federation of Trade Unions published an article on its website in 2019, discussing the struggle for a four-day working day against the historical background of the movement of socialists to shorten working hours since the 19th century.
The author of the article, Kate Bell, reminds everyone that the 5-day work system that people take for granted is also the result of unions fighting against poor working conditions and striving for a balance between work and life. “We are living through another radical new era of technology,” she called. “Like its predecessors in the labor movement, we demand that workers should get their fair share.” Shorter hours are not the gift of conscientious bosses or sympathetic governments, but rather has been at the heart of the trade union movement.
Bell noted that technological automation has created some concerns, while flexible working arrangements such as zero-hour contracts have blurred the lines between work and home life. First, the enormous economic growth that AI brings should also benefit workers as a whole. Second, zero-hour work requires workers to be “on call,” effectively costing workers enormous amounts of unpaid overtime.
Bell said: “New technology should not allow the boss to control every waking hour of the employee, but should give the employee more control over their own working hours.” Unions in Germany, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom and other countries have made some efforts, Limit zero-hour contracts. In France, for example, trade unions have won the “right to turn off mobile phones” for employees, and companies with more than 50 employees must negotiate the use of digital technology to ensure that employees’ rest, vacations and personal lives are respected.
The 4-day week itself is not a perfect system, but that doesn’t mean people should give up trying to get it. Although European experiments have proved that shortening working hours is good for both companies and employees, the inertia of “involution” will not stop automatically. Historian Yuval Harari hopes that technology should serve the well-being of mankind, but reality often backfires.