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The Four-Day Week: Countries Embracing It and Early Impacts

The concept of a four-day workweek has gained traction globally, with countries like Belgium, the UK, and Portugal announcing trials or legislative changes. Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions surrounding workplace flexibility and employee well-being have driven the exploration of this alternative work arrangement. The fundamental idea is to have employees work four days a week, maintaining the same pay, benefits, and workload. Proponents argue that this approach enhances job satisfaction and productivity. While trade unions across Europe advocate for its implementation, let’s explore which countries have embraced the four-day week and evaluate their progress so far.

Belgium: Pioneering Legislation for a Four-Day Week Belgium made history by becoming the first European country to legislate a four-day workweek. In February 2022, Belgian employees secured the right to condense their full workweek into four days without salary reduction. The law took effect on November 21, allowing individuals to choose between a four-day or five-day workweek. Despite the condensed hours, the objective is not to decrease working time but rather offer greater flexibility for balancing personal and professional lives. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo believes this shift will infuse flexibility into the rigid labor market and boost the country’s economic dynamism. However, some concerns have been raised, such as long working days for full-time employees and limited flexibility for shift workers.

UK: Exploring the Four-Day Workweek In the UK, the four-day workweek has gained attention and sparked discussions among employers and employees. Although no legislation has been enacted, several companies have voluntarily adopted this model to improve employee well-being and productivity. Pilot programs and trials have demonstrated positive outcomes, including enhanced work-life balance and increased employee satisfaction. The UK continues to explore the feasibility of a national shift towards a shorter workweek, with ongoing debates and initiatives at both the organizational and governmental levels.

Portugal: Joining the Four-Day Workweek Movement Following in the footsteps of other countries, Portugal recently announced plans for a trial of the four-day workweek. While specific details and timelines are yet to be finalized, this initiative aligns with Portugal’s aim to prioritize work-life balance and employee welfare. The trial period will provide valuable insights into the potential benefits and challenges of implementing a shorter workweek across industries and sectors.

Early Impacts and Considerations: Advocates of the four-day workweek emphasize improved employee satisfaction and productivity as primary advantages. By reducing the number of workdays, organizations may experience fewer meetings and increased individual productivity. However, concerns have been raised regarding the potential impact on certain industries and workers, such as those in shift-based roles who may not have the same flexibility. Balancing the needs of employees and businesses while ensuring fair and equitable practices remains an ongoing challenge.

The global shift toward exploring the four-day workweek reflects a growing recognition of the importance of work-life balance and employee well-being. Belgium’s pioneering legislation, the UK’s voluntary initiatives, and Portugal’s upcoming trial exemplify countries embracing this alternative work arrangement. While early impacts are promising, careful considerations must be made to address potential challenges and ensure inclusivity across different work sectors. The journey toward a four-day workweek is an ongoing conversation that requires collaboration between employers, employees, and policymakers to foster productive and harmonious work environments for all.

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