Utopias only stop being utopias when they are overcome. More than two centuries ago Robert Owen, founder of the British labor movement and theorist of a socialism prior to Marx, vindicated the 888 formula (eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours of leisure). He considered that the quality of a worker’s production was linked to his quality of life. Its formula was consolidated among Western countries, where now the debate consists between the labor deregulation that has been pressing since the end of the 20th century and the new utopias of the 21st that want to overcome 888, although its founding principle is the one that Owen already defended more than Two centuries.
The four-day work week is the new utopia that several countries (Iceland, the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal) have tried and that provokes the same hostility and hilarity that were once caused by the initiatives to limit the work week to five. days and that in Spain it was established in a pioneering way in 1919 (only after Russia). In Belgium, the four-day week is already an option available to workers, although it does not imply a reduction in hours but rather their concentration.
The preliminary study on the Portuguese pilot project, which began in September 2022 in its theoretical phase and covers a thousand employees, once again confirms the beneficial relationship between happy workers and their professional performance. 95% of the companies participating in the trial considered that the changes observed were positive. For the staff, the most notable thing is the improvements they perceived in their mental health, one of the great weaknesses of today’s society.
Three months after the start of the pilot project, all the symptoms that warn of psychological deterioration decreased in the participants: anxiety (21% less), fatigue (23%), insomnia (19%), states of depression (21%), tension (21%) and loneliness (14%). More than 85% of workers improved in at least one of these indicators, according to the report prepared by the professor of Strategic Human Resources Management at the University of Reading, Rita Fontinhas, and the professor of Economics at the University of London, Pedro Gomes, who coordinate the project promoted by the Ministry of Labor, Solidarity and Social Security.
Having more time allowed workers to invest hours in physical exercise (those who never did it decreased from 27% to 14.5%) and show more satisfaction with their personal relationships. Employees who previously complained about the difficulty of reconciling family and work life dropped to a minimum. If before almost half considered it difficult to combine both tasks, later the figure was reduced to 8%. Workers’ satisfaction with the reduction in working hours was also measured in terms of salary. To change to a company where they had to return to the five-day work week, they would demand at least a 20% salary increase.
The final study on this project, in which 41 companies that do not receive any public subsidy for it, participate, will be presented in April. “Companies will have a couple of months to decide if they are going to maintain the reduction, return to the five-day week or adjust the format,” explains Pedro Gomes. The reduction in the working week did not mean a decrease in salary, although it did mean an average decrease of 13.7% in working hours. Most companies chose to offer one day off per week. To maintain production rates in less time, different organizational strategies were adopted such as “reducing meetings, creating work blocks or adopting new software.”
The majority of companies were involved, according to the study, to improve their human resources management. “The most frequently cited reason is the decreased level of stress among workers. In addition, we can see that the measure helps solve specific problems, such as increasing the capacity to recruit and retain workers. “Many companies consider it an alternative to salary increases.”
Here you can consult the latest Letters from the correspondent
Follow all the information Economy and Business in Facebook and xor in our weekly newsletter
The Five Day agenda
The most important economic quotes of the day, with the keys and context to understand their scope.
RECEIVE IT IN YOUR EMAIL