Is It Time to Embrace the Four-Day Workweek in Europe?

Happy, healthy, satisfied employees typically produce better work, regardless of how many days or hours they're allocated per week to do that.

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The movement toward a four-day workweek seemed impossible just a few years ago, but the idea and practice have taken hold throughout Europe and around the world. If you own a small business in the region, you might want to consider getting onboard now, before the train really leaves the station.

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"Even as someone working in this space, I wouldn't have predicted we would have gotten to where we are today as quickly as we have," says Joe O'Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, in an interview with Entrepreneur Europe. "The pandemic has been a big game-changer in that respect."

The four-day workweek movement is "taking off all the way across the world, not [only] in advanced Western democracies," O'Connor says. He points to the United Arab Emirates' move to a four-and-a-half-day workweek in their public sector and the rise of the concept among companies in Japan as proof that it's "a global phenomenon."

O'Connor's company is planning to do a Europe-wide program next year, but some countries are already getting in on the action. The United Kingdom and Ireland have pilot programs in some level of development, and about 70 companies in the region will take part in a trial starting on 1 June, making it "the largest reduced work-time trial that's ever taken place anywhere in the world." The Icelandic government coordinated one between 2015 and 2019, and researchers branded it "an overwhelming success" at the time — but that was even before the pandemic reoriented global workers' appreciation for work-life balance, which O'Connor said has been a key to the movement's momentum in recent years.

Spain and Scotland have also announced national pilot programs and Belgium has offered an option for a four-day workweek, though with the same amount of hours worked. The UK's pilot program will rely on a similar method of allowing employees at participating companies to work more during their four days on the job. Scotland's trial will begin in 2023, though workers won't be expected to make up the fifth day's hours. Wales, too, is considering a trial.

"The Irish government launched a research project on this," he explains. "It's something that's growing in momentum, both at a corporate level, but also at the national government level."

But what would it mean for your employees — and your company overall? That's a key question any business owner is bound to have. O'Connor says he and his team don't only look at the possibility of a four-day workweek from a work-life balance perspective because the benefits there "are well understood [and] well established." Rather, he says, it's worth focusing on evidence that suggests efficiency and productivity rise under this model, too. He added that there's a competitive advantage for companies employing the four-day workweek: Many industries have transitioned to remote or hybrid work in response to the pandemic, he said, so businesses offering different types of flexible work to employees are really offering an incentive that can help them retain talent.

"CEOs need to ask themselves the question, "Is it a bigger risk that we try this and it doesn't work, or is it a bigger risk that we don't try this and our biggest competitor does it?'" he says.

The move to a four-day workweek can be "just transformative in people's lives," O'Connor says, pointing out that giving workers an extra day to pick children up from school, spend time with elderly relatives, or learn a new hobby or skill engenders health within a company. Happy, healthy, satisfied employees simply produce better work, regardless of how many days or hours they're allocated per week to do that.

"Could I see a situation where, in the next two to three years, this becomes the norm rather than the ambition, based on current trends?" he asks. "Absolutely … A few people would have said years ago that the four-day workweek was a pie-in-the-sky idea. Now, I think it's kind of pie-in-the-sky for employers who think we're just going to go back to the way things were in February of 2020."