Monday is a happy day for Sara Cabrerizo. “I get up late on Mondays, a fantasy. Then I go to the gym or swimming with my mother, I run errands… Whatever fits me”, she explains at the Good Rebels office in Madrid. This digital marketing agency is one of the few companies in Spain that apply the four-day shift, 32 hours a week instead of 40. “My life has changed dramatically for the better,” adds this 25-year-old worker. She shares her opinion with her partner of the same age, Inés Aguilar, who has been off on Fridays since last year: “I’m less stressed. I can do things that I didn’t have time for before, like learning Italian.” They are paid the same as when they worked five days a week.
Iliana del Barrio, 39, has two small children and also works four days. “Friday morning is my day to do whatever I feel like. Before, if I wanted to go to the hairdresser or whatever, I had to leave the children with the grandmothers. Council much better”. She is an administrator at EMA Competición, a motorcycle mechanics academy in Malaga. who introduced the four-day shift in 2019. “This is wonderful,” she adds.
The workers of the Grupo Deluxe company from Granada, dedicated to water treatment products, are even more convincing. “They would have to pay me double to go to another company. You don’t know what a disappointment it would be to go back after five days,” says the 40-year-old administrator Verónica Ávila. “Until I win the lottery I’m not leaving here. You live very well ending the week in Thursday”, comments one of the commercials, Benito Valenzuela, 51 years old.
The four-day working week is making its way in Spain, although the percentage of companies is very small and the number of firms that have emerged to do so does not reach two dozen. The Ministry of Labor has not counted how many there are. Meanwhile, the Industry Department has started this week the procedure for 150 companies to test the system, always without salary reduction (in firms such as Telefónica or Desigual it exists, but it implies less salary). The department led by Reyes Maroto has put the project out for public consultation this week, for which 10 million euros have been approved, a demand from More Country to support the General State Budgets. Details are expected to be released before the end of the summer, according to industry sources. The initial proposal is that aid of between 2,000 and 3,000 euros per worker be given to companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, that adhere to the program.
The objective is to test whether the reduction of working hours, maintaining the same salaries, is affordable by companies and does not reduce their productivity or their margins. They are not the only initiatives of these characteristics. In the United Kingdom, an experiment along these lines has just been launched, the largest on this issue, and for six months 73 companies, with a total of 3,000 employees, will apply the 100-80-100 scheme, that is, 100% salary, 80% of work time and 100% effectiveness. Researchers from various universities, including Cambridge and Oxford, will also look at how employees respond to various factors, such as added stress, job satisfaction, health, sleep and well-being levels.
That extra stress is one of the main risks detractors point to. “It doesn’t happen to me, but I understand that it can stress some people a little more,” considers Juanmi Díez, 33, an employee at Good Rebels, who at first doubted that the project would prosper: “It seemed crazy to me because I thought that we already had enough freedom to manage our time. He was wrong. Either you force the mental framework that you don’t work on Friday or you don’t get used to your colleagues and your clients”. “On the balance it pays to press a little more. It is a great advantage”, adds Reinaldo Ortega, one of the professors (25 years old) of the Malaga academy.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Joan Sanchis, associate professor of Applied Economics at the University of Valencia, advisor to the Department of Sustainable Economy of the Generalitat Valenciana (which is preparing a plan similar to the state plan) and author of Four days. Work menys per viure in a món millor (Sembra Llibres, 2022), believes that if the worker is more overwhelmed, the company misapplies the four-day shift: “If people are going to be more tired, this is useless. The important thing is to innovate to correct inefficiencies and that this affects productivity. We can do the same thing in less time without overwhelming the worker.” Sanchis uses OECD data to justify his claim: employees in Spain are among the What more hours do they spend at work?but your productivity is low compared to countries like Germany or the UK.
In Spain, 1,577 hours are worked on average per year, 245 more than in Germany and 210 more than in the United Kingdom, but these countries generate more wealth. The difference, however, is due in part to the fact that the richest countries tend to have a more technical and industrial economy, and with larger companies, while in economies such as Spain’s, more labor-intensive sectors and the The vast majority of companies are small or medium-sized.
Produce the same in fewer hours
Can the same work be done in fewer hours? The initiative does not come for free. In the Jaen company of software Delsol, a pioneer in applying the four-day work week in Spain, hired more staff to start up the system in January 2020. “The workforce went from 160 to 185 people to distribute the workload and provide the same service to the client”, explains by phone the person in charge of human resources, Ana Arroyo, who adds that from the beginning the objective of the company was to promote conciliation. “The week can be more intense, but you get over it, it compensates,” she says.
Joan Sanchis explains that in companies governed by shifts (such as hospitality or industry) implementing the four-day shift requires more staff, but in others with a more creative character it may not be necessary. “It is organizing better, procrastinating less. You become more efficient. For example, the meetings are more specific and there are things that we used to see each other for that now are solved with an email, ”says Joel Calafell, 34, of Good Rebels.
Delsol’s staff work from Monday to Thursday, except for those employees who have a relationship with customers, who take turns to provide service the five working days. To make the most of the time, some changes have been introduced, such as reducing the time for eating from an hour and a half to an hour and trying to keep meetings to no more than 20 minutes. Rocío Ramos, 41, works in customer service: “On that day off you can do many errands that you can’t do on the weekend and rest,” she explains. Ramos does not believe that the work is more stressful: she admits that at the beginning “it is more intense”, but then being able to charge batteries for a day is worth it. “My goodness, if we had to go back in five days… he would give us something,” she jokes.
The Delsol company already has some data to defend its strategy. Two and a half years after launching the four-day week, employee and customer surveys indicate a clear improvement in the work environment and quality of service, according to Ana Arroyo. And the company has increased turnover by 20%.
The objective of the conciliation was also what led Daniel Magaz, 47, manager of the Galician company Toldos Porriño, to apply the four days in September 2021. “We work nine hours a day, that is, 36 weekly, in shifts Monday through Thursday and Tuesday through Friday,” he explains by phone. He maintains the payroll and contributions to the 11 workers who make up his staff. He had to hire one more person to balance the shifts. “For many years I was a bank worker and I worked long hours, but when I founded my company in 2013 my mentality was to combine economic and social benefits, because I prefer to earn a little less and work a little less too,” he explains. “The four days are done in a more intense way, people are more focused and there is less downtime; I think things are going well: we haven’t noticed any loss in productivity”, he says.
It remains to be seen whether this type of initiative is only viable in companies whose business is doing well, which also do not have very large staff and whose owners are sensitive to work-life balance issues, or it can become generalized. The debate is not now at the social dialogue table, unions and employers agree. Asked about it at the end of May, Antonio Garamendi, president of the CEOE, said: “At the moment five days are necessary”, so, from his point of view, those who defend a reduction sometimes enter into “debates to win elections”. He explained that his organization does not avoid any debate and that, when he “arrives at the table” of negotiation, they will talk about it.
For the unions it is positive to talk about working time and in the negotiations of the agreements there is always pressure to achieve improvements. “It is a fundamental claim and in many agreements we have gone from 40 hours to 35 or 37.5”, explains Carlos Gutiérrez, Secretary of Studies and Training of CC OO. But he sees the issue as broader than the four-day week. “There are two fundamental issues: first, we must ensure that people fulfill their effective working day and that they do not work extra hours, without complying with the regulations that regulate overtime, nor do they comply with the established limits or are paid. In this sense, it is also necessary to control the fraud that occurs in part-time contracts. For example, you are hired to work four hours a day and many more hours are worked. Secondly, you have to distribute the best working day, employers have a lot of capacity to impose irregular working hours that end up having a very negative impact on the lives of the workers”, he says. Gutiérrez sees positive that there is talk of the four-day week, but he does not believe that its application will be very extensive.
There are also highly questionable modalities, such as the Belgian case. In that country, the Government is preparing a labor reform that allows, prior agreement between the company and the union, to work four days, the same hours, with shifts of between 9.5 and 10 hours a day. “It’s an aberration, between going and coming home, there are very long days,” says Gutiérrez. A success story is that of Iceland, which, between 2015 and 2019, carried out an experiment to pay employees the same but working only four days and productivity was maintained or improved. 86% of the Icelandic workforce has adopted the new schedule or is entitled to do so.
Some pilots have also been carried out in New Zealand and the results have not always been satisfactory. A study carried out by Helen Delaney and Catherine Casey, professors at the University of Auckland, concluded that, after the change in shifts, some employees felt that the work was more stressful and that they received more pressure from their superiors to meet the objectives. There were fewer breaks and they socialized less, which for some was perfect and for others it left them shattered.
“I don’t know how fast this is going to be implemented. I don’t know if we are going to see it in 20 years or if it will take a generation, as the two-day weekend was extended at the time. But I think it’s unstoppable. In two decades I think it will seem normal for us to work four days, ”adds Kike Valdenebro, 49, a partner at the digital marketing agency. He is clear that companies that implement this model have an “unbeatable” advantage in personnel selection: “It is easier to attract talent when you offer flexibility.”
“The basic question”, concludes Sanchis, “is to review the role of work in our lives and talk about the right to time. The economic reality is changing. Now the four-day journey may seem like an anecdote, but it is penetrating very quickly since the pandemic, which made us rethink almost everything. It is possible to work in another way and on that certainty an alternative to face-to-face work and spending meaningless hours is flourishing”. Like, for example, spending less time on the lunch break, promoting hybrid work or asking yourself before calling a meeting: could it be solved with a mail?