In our most recent podcast (August 2023), a panel of experienced employment lawyers discussed various legal tools that can help maintain the work-life balance and to what extent evolutions are noticeable in this respect, for instance following the corona crisis. This article summarises the key points discussed in the podcast with regards to the 4-day working week concept.
The 4-day working week is a familiar concept in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium. In Italy, however, trade unions and the Italian government have only just begun to discuss the topic.
Both in the UK and Ireland, a six-month trial has been conducted by several companies (12 in Ireland v. 70 in the UK) switching to a 4-day working week. The findings were positive.
The Ireland trial showed an increase in revenue for at least half of the participants, with only one declaring a decrease. Employee well-being increased, thanks to a statistically significant reduction in burnout and anxiety, an increase in job satisfaction, and a huge drop in sleep deprivation by over 70%. However, there seemed to be no sign of a decrease in sick days.
The UK trial displayed similar results, such as a tremendous increase in employee well-being. 95% of the participants claimed that productivity had either stayed the same or improved. Moreover, the number of staff leaving companies dropped by 57%.
After both trials, most participating companies expressed that they would continue with a 4-day working week, both in the UK and Ireland. Thus, overall, it can certainly be said that the trials were a success and that thought can be given to further formalizing and implementing the concept in both countries.
In Belgium, the implementation has already been done, immediately exposing the obstacles, at least for the concept of the 4-day working week as concretely worked out by the Belgian legislator.
The formalism involved in implementation seems a thorn in the side. Employees need to request the 4-day working week in writing, company labour regulations need to be changed or a new collective bargaining agreement has to be established, a specific contract in writing containing the specific details of the 4-day working week has to be prepared, …
While 42% of employees feel that flexible working hours are important in choice of employer, 80% of employers foresee troubles in making it happen in a 24-hour economy. 25% of employers estimate it«s impossible to implement because of the impact on the organisation.
For now, it's too soon to say what the actual use of the concept is and whether or not it has an actual (positive) impact on the mental or physical well-being of Belgian employees.
Work-Life Balance Podcast
Listen to the Work-Life Balance podcast chaired by Jef Michielsen (BE – Bellaw) and with contributions from Inge Derde (BE – Bellaw), Anna Cozzi (IT – Daverio&Florio), Naomi Latham (UK – CM Murray) and Bernadette Daly (IE – CC Solicitors).