Momentum has been building for a four-day workweek for years, with business after business (and even a whole town in Sweden) experimenting with letting employees work shorter hours for the same pay and finding they're more productive and happier.
Now it appears a whole country is ready to pilot the idea, with Spain set to announce the first nationwide scheme to test out the policy.
The details are still in the works
"While the exact details of the pilot will be hashed out with the government," the current proposal is a "€50m project that would allow companies to trial reduced hours with minimal risk. The costs of a company's foray into the four-day workweek, for example, could be covered at 100 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year, and 33 percent the third year," reports The Guardian.
"We calculate that we could have around 200 companies participate, with a total of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 workers," commented Héctor Tejero of left-wing party Más País, the driving force behind the pilot. "The only red lines are that we want to see a true reduction of working hours and no loss of salary or jobs." The government hopes to roll out the scheme in the fall.
Is this brilliance ...
Data from previous trials suggests there is a hard-nosed business case for four-day workweeks. When Microsoft piloted a reduced workweek among 2,300 workers in Japan, for instance, it saw a 39.9 percent bump in productivity and cost savings related to reduced use of office space. A whopping 92 percent of employees said they liked the new schedule.
The pandemic has only supercharged the case for shortened workweeks. Our abrupt switch to remote work illustrated that the usual 40-hour-a-week, in-office rat race wasn't so incredibly hard to change after all. Plus, working from home gave many workers a taste for a more flexible lifestyle.
And then there are the knock-on benefits of shorter workweeks: the climate benefits of reduced commuting, a workplace that's more hospitable to those with caring responsibilities, and, as New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern noted when she came out in favor of a four-day workweek, a boost to the battered hospitality sector when workers have more time for leisure.
... or madness?
Still, critics have pointed out potential problems with a switch to a four-day workweek. Some experts, for instance, fret that while workers can be equally effective in fewer hours short-term, shorter workweeks could crowd out time for training, learning, and the kind of big-picture thinking that leads to innovation in the long term.
Others offer tweaks to the idea. Wharton professor Adam Grant has argued that shortening each workday to end at 3 p.m. would be better than trimming one day entirely.
Then there is, of course, the old-school objection that when it comes to work and productivity, more really is more. "Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less," The Guardian quotes Ricardo Mur, of Spanish business association CEOE, insisting.
Which sounds like plenty of leaders here in the U.S. (Elon Musk and big swaths of the financial services sector come to mind). That, combined with the general inability of the federal government to agree on much of anything, makes it hard to imagine any such scheme here in the U.S. anytime soon. But, company by company, creeping change might be coming here, too -- some data scraped from job listings suggests it already is.
What's your take: Will we see more companies switching to four-day workweeks in the wake of the pandemic?