The four-day working week

The four-day working week

The concept of a four-day working week has become increasingly popular and attracted more attention in recent years. The idea behind the concept is that it can improve work-life balance, which also helps to increase productivity and reduce operating costs.

The concept is to reduce the number of working days from the traditional five to four a week, while maintaining and increasing work efficiency. In the following article we discuss the possibilities, origins, early introduction and current situation of the four-day working week.


The origin of the four-day working week

The idea of reducing working hours can be traced back to the various labour movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the spread of mechanisation. As the rise of continuous industrialisation meant that one piece of equipment could perform the tasks of several people, the labour movements called for a reduction in working hours (Bregman), in addition to/instead of increasing productivity. The philosophers of the time (Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill), but also, surprisingly, the industrialist Henry Ford (to whom we owe the 40-hour working week (Terrell)) and Richard Nixon played a major role in this. Thus the original 60-70 hour working week gradually evolved into a 40 hour week, which remained the standard for decades despite the vision of the great thinkers.
The introduction of an explicit four-day working week is also not linked to a specific date. The first attempts date back to the late 2000s, for example the introduction of a 4-day workweek in Utah in the US for reasons of economy (Brundin), followed by a more serious trial in Iceland, where nearly 1% of workers were allowed to participate in a pilot study on the effectiveness of a 36-hour workweek between 2015 and 2019. The project was a resounding success, with 86% of the Icelandic workforce now working reduced hours (BBC).
The project was given a new impetus during the COVID-19 epidemic, as it forced employers to adopt more flexible working hours. Thus, in recent years, pilot projects to introduce a 4-day working week have been (or are still) run in several countries, including New Zealand, the UK and Spain. Among European countries, Belgium was the first to pass a law in 2022 allowing workers to choose between four- and five-day working arrangements (de Croo).
Despite all these positive examples, the 4-day working week is currently not considered to be widespread and its practical implementation depends largely on the company implementing it. Another common criticism of the concept is that it is mainly effective in white-collar jobs, and may not be the appropriate form of employment for a continuously productive enterprise.
The possibilities for a four-day working week can vary widely depending on the organisation, the industry and the specific job. Due to the nature of the work, not all sectors can easily adapt to this model, such as healthcare, retail and other service-oriented industries that require consistent daily coverage. Moreover, the success of a four-day working week often depends on careful planning, clear communication and the ability to measure and maintain productivity levels.

How to implement a four-day working week?

This model can take several forms, depending on the organisation implementing it:

  1. Reduced working hours: The total number of hours worked per week will be reduced, with employees working four days a week instead of five, with the same number of hours. This approach focuses on increasing productivity during the reduced hours to maintain the same level of performance.
  2. Same working hours in fewer days: Employees will continue to work the same number of hours per week as in the standard working week, but these hours will be spread over four longer days. For example, instead of working 40 hours over five 8-hour working days, an employee may work four 10-hour days. This model retains full working hours, but aims to provide longer periods of time off to improve work-life balance and to allow for recovery (Coslor).

The above two examples are two borderline cases, the concrete implementation depends on the activity, culture and industry characteristics of the company. For example, it is possible to give all employees the Friday as a third day off, or even Wednesday as a day off during the week. In other cases, the enterprise may do an A-Week to B-Week type of breakdown, with 5 working days in A-Week and 4 working days in B-Week.


Main expectations of a four-day working week:

  • Improved work-life balance: One of the primary aims of the four-day working week is to give workers more time for personal fulfilment, family and relaxation, which makes them more balanced and satisfied.
  • Increased productivity: A growing body of research* (Haraldsson) (de Croo) suggests that workers can be just as productive in four days as in five, especially if they are more focused and motivated by the prospect of a longer weekend.
  • Environmental benefits: Fewer commuting days mean fewer carbon emissions and a smaller environmental footprint for both workers and employers.
  • Employee well-being: The extra day off is a way to reduce stress and burnout, so employees will be mentally healthier and more stable in the company. So they take less sick leave and show more commitment to their work.

4 day working week at Alias


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