Four day work week? Czech pilot project sees promising results

An advertising firm has been on a four-day schedule for over a year, with productivity increasing and expenses dropping.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 24.03.2022 16:48:00 (updated on 26.03.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Efforts to move to a four-day workweek have been picking up speed, with some studies showing productivity actually increases, despite fewer hours of work being done. A Czech company has tried out the shortened week and confirmed that the shorter week could have positive results here.

Currently, the five-day workweek based on 40 hours is typical not only in Europe but in most of the world. Czechs in 2020 worked 39.3 hours a week, longer than the European Union average of 37.0 hours, according to data released by Eurostat.

The experience with working at home and other flexible arrangements, though, has led both employees and employers to question whether the current work model is the best.

“Recent changes to work have accelerated the four-day movement. The pandemic has made it clear we can change how we work very dramatically,” California-based Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, program director at non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, recently told the BBC.

Throughout the pandemic, more and more people have been declaring five-day week to be either outdated or dead.

The four-day movement has started to find some advocates in the Czech Republic. Advertising agency B&T, based in Prague 2, experimented with giving staff four days of work and three days off at the same pay during the pandemic.

According to the agency’s figures, monetary turnover per employee increased by 18 percent during the first year and productivity rose by 60 percent. Conversely, time spent in meetings fell by 17 percent and the cost of running the business fell by 14 percent.

Trials in other countries have had similar results. Microsoft in Japan in 2019 saw productivity rise 40 percent, plus a substantial reduction in spending on electricity. A New Zealand estate planning firm saw productivity rise 20 percent and staff satisfaction also increase. Experiments in Iceland in reduced hours also had positive results.

B&T pointed out that one factor helping to increase productivity is that personal issues such as visits to a doctor or an administrative office do not have to be dealt with by people during working hours. As a result, people can concentrate more on work.

Some 90 percent of B&T employees said they consider themselves happier than during a five-day workweek. In three days, people can rest more than in two.

“The motivation to introduce a four-day working week was both business and human. We believed that if we had more time for ourselves and our loved ones, we would be far more relaxed and happier. And therefore more productive,” B&T founder Jan Jelínek said.

“And at that very moment, it also makes sense from a business point of view – the same team will do a much better job in less time. Not to mention that this also attracts the best people on the job market,” Jelínek added.

Making the switch to the four-day week was not as easy as it may sound. It required planning and research before the launch.

“For several months, we just collected data, discussed, read analyzes from around the world, analyzed all the pros and cons before we found the right way to implement a four-day model that suits us,” Jeremie Bertolino, CEO of B&T, said.

“If I were to simplify it, it is a matter of taking old old work habits and getting rid of them. Hack them. Change them to a more efficient and productive version. Focusing on making you work smart, not hard,” Bertolino added.

Inefficient or unnecessary meetings have to be done away with. Processes have to be followed exactly, without room for excuses or missed deadlines. This requires far greater personal responsibility on the part of employees. This is why it is easier to introduce a four-day working week in smaller companies, and why the larger ones tend to avoid it so far, according to B&T.

The idea of a four-day workweek goes back to the 1950s when unions began to push for shorter hours, but it has been slow to catch on. A Gallup study from March 2020 of over 10,000 U.S. full-time employees showed only 5 percent worked a shorter week.

While people think the four-day workweek is a concept set in stone, it is actually a little more than a century old. Cotton mill workers in New England began to get Saturday off in 1908 because it was the Sabbath for Jewish workers.

In 1926, automobile maker Henry Ford added Saturday as a second day off, and this made a ripple across the labor market. American labor unions began to demand a five-day week starting in 1929, but it wasn’t until 1940 that a 40-hour workweek was set by law in the U.S. The idea for the five-day week spread from the U.S. to other countries worldwide.

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