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What Countries are Implementing Four-Day Work Weeks?

Workmates lounging by the coffee shop

Work-life balance has always been a struggle for Americans. But an increased concern for workers’ rights along with the power of technology and automation has created a shift. Nowadays, some industries do not need as many working hours anymore, and the global trend, especially in Europe, leans toward a shorter workweek of four days.

But how come other countries can implement it while others, like the United States, are not yet grasping it? While Americans work an average of 38 hours a week, many are still putting in more hours, and a few countries who work fewer hours still make a decent amount of money.

History

The four-day workweek has become a hot topic in recent years, as technology introduced new ways to increase productivity.

During the Great Depression in 1930, famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the world would enjoy a 15-hour workweek within a hundred years. During his time, Keynes saw the rise of industrialization and assumed the trend towards putting more efficient work methods would continue. He suggested that once a worker earned enough to pay for his necessities, they will opt to spend more time on leisure or at home, reducing the workweek to only two to three days.

That was an attractive fantasy that surrounded the workforce throughout the century, and it never quite left. In 1956, Richard Nixon predicted that the four-day workweek was coming in the not-so-distant future.

The prediction remained just an idea until 1998 when France enacted the first of its two Aubry laws, which reduces the national work week to 35 hours instead of 39. Their aim back then was to reduce the 12% unemployment rate through work-sharing, but the success of this legislation got other countries into revisiting their work schedules.

Now, different European countries are implementing shorter workweeks in varying degrees. Some have experimented with it, and the conversation only got louder when a New Zealand firm conducted a formal experiment in 2018.

Countries with the Shortest Working Hours

While the US seems to be working longer than in most countries, American work ethics usually demand more extended hours. Meanwhile, other countries are demanding shorter. The four-day workweek is underway in Europe. Here are the countries with the shortest workweeks, according to the 2018 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD):

Countries: Average work hours per week:
Germany 26
Denmark 27
Norway 27
Netherlands 28
Sweden 28
Iceland 28
Austria 29
France 29
UK 29
Luxembourg 29

Benefits of Four-Day Work Week:

Factoring in the data from the New Zealand study and the advantages the short-work-week countries are experiencing, here are the benefits of a shorter workweek:

1. Increased employee happiness

Research shows that employers reportedly find it easier to attract excellent talent with flexible working options and a better work-life balance. With less stress and better work-life balance, workers are happier and tend to engage better with work. They also have increased motivation and creativity.

2. Better productivity

Productivity during work hours increases to compensate for the lost day. Aside from the New Zealand study, evidence from another study shows that overall productivity peaks at 25 to 30 hours a week for people over the age of 40.

3. More efficient use of time

Because employees are spending less time in the office, they also tend to lessen the time on inefficient tasks like meetings. They are less likely to waste time having excessive breaks and using social media.

4. Lower unemployment rates

Companies can fill open hours with new employees, hiring multiple workers to fill standard one-person jobs. Because of this, many European counties have decreased the unemployment rate.

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