After a pandemic year, we’re all a bit tired and worn out. Looking for ways to address that, Spain has agreed to launch a pilot for companies interested in a four-day working week, becoming one of the first countries in the world to try the idea. The leftwing Spanish party Más Pais presented the proposal earlier this year to the national government, who has formally accepted it and will now take the first steps forward.
Working better, not more
Among the many things the coronavirus pandemic has affected, there’s also our work-life balance. Most people are simultaneously working from home while doing their day-to-day activities, with many reporting they actually work more than they did before the pandemic struck.
This has raised discussions over a four-day working week (an idea that has been around for over a century) as a way to increase productivity while improving the mental health of workers.
“With the four-day workweek (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times,” said Iñigo Errejón of Más País on Twitter. “It’s an idea whose time has come. Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. Working more hours does not mean working better.”
Errejón’s party has proposed a $60 million project over the next three years, allowing companies to trial the reduced hours with minimal risk. The government would cover 100% of the costs the first year, 50% the second year, and 33% the third year. They estimate that around 200 companies will participate, with a total of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 workers.
The pilot would start as early as autumn. It’s the first national initiative to reduce working hours since France started moving to a 35-hour-week in 1998. The party hopes to echo from the experience of Software Delsol, a Spanish company that became last year the first one to implement a four-day working week — which remarkably, lead to higher productivity and happier workers.
A panel of experts will jointly run the pilot, including representatives from the government, business organizations, and workers unions. It’s a promising idea and it’s backed by science: studies seem to suggest that a four-day week can improve work quality and save money. But not everyone’s a fan.
Ricardo Mur, the leader of the country’s main business association, CEOE, has already described the proposal as “madness” due to the country’s recession. “Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less,” Mur told a forum in December.
As Spain moves forward with its pilot, the idea is closely being followed around the world. In Japan, members of the Parliament have started discussion a proposal to allow workers to opt for a four-day working week. A group of companies have already implemented flexible working systems. Microsoft tried it and saw a 40% increase of productivity, for example.
But not every experiment on fewer working hours has been successful. State employees in Utah began working from Monday to Thursday for 10 hours in 2008, hoping to cut down operating costs such as air conditioning and electricity. But it all ended in 2011, when Governor Gary Herbert vetoed the legislation after concluding the savings weren’t significant.