The four day week. Full salary, but only four working days a week: what sounds utopian has many advantages, also for companies. New studies show that productivity increases with fewer working hours. This is to be confirmed with large field tests in 2023.

77 percent of Germans would like to work only four instead of five days a week. 14 percent would even accept a corresponding wage cut. The opportunity to enforce reduced working hours with full wage compensation is cheaper than ever in many sectors. Because there is a shortage of skilled workers, companies have to offer applicants better and better conditions – so why not the four-day week?

Many examples show that this can also be advantageous for companies. In Germany, for example, Alfred Keller, head of a craft business from Überlingen on Lake Constance, reported on his experiences. “It’s a ‘win-win-win’ situation,” he told SWR. The employees are happy that the weekend starts on Friday, Keller himself can use the day for office organization and “the end customer thinks that’s cool too.” when Keller’s employees aren’t around – painting, for example. And: The four-day week attracts applicants. Keller says he could have hired ten additional trainees this year.

The experiences of the craftsman from Lake Constance coincide with larger-scale studies. Probably the biggest experiment was initiated by the New Zealand organization “4 Day Week Global”. Since this year, she has been supporting field trials in various countries and evaluating the data based on a dozen different factors. The first results are promising. Companies in the US, Ireland and Australia, where a total of 969 employees worked just four days a week for 10 months, reported that sales rose by an average of 38 percent over the previous year.

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Although this can also have other factors than the four-day week, the companies themselves rated the influence of the working model with 7.7 out of 10 possible points. In addition, employees were absent less often due to illness. There were only 0.4 instead of 0.6 days of absence per month and employee, which corresponds to a reduction of 33 percent. In addition, fewer employees quit, came to the office more willingly, and it was easier to find new applicants. Overall, the companies involved rated the four-day week with 9 out of 10 points. None of the 33 companies that took part in the test will return to the five-day week in the future.

Even greater than the benefit to employers was the benefit to workers. Employees reported that they exercised an average of 24 minutes more per week, had fewer work-life conflicts, and were less likely to come home from work too tired to attend to household or family chores. Positive: Employees actually used the day off for leisure activities. Nobody worked there in a second job.

4 Day Week Global testing is set to expand in 2023. Trials in the US and Canada began in November, with many European countries and South Africa scheduled to begin in February. Independent of the New Zealand initiative, a test involving 70 companies in Great Britain and 200 companies in Spain started in September. So far, there have been no corresponding field trials in Germany.

However, the excellent results from previous tests must be treated with caution. A major point of criticism is that all companies took part voluntarily. Only employers who are open to a four-day week and who are able to incorporate it into their everyday organizational routine end up in the test. Better effects are programmed with this. But not all companies can easily reduce the working hours of their employees.

“The four-day week is not suitable for widespread use in small or medium-sized companies today,” says Matthias Bianchi from the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises to SWR. He thinks that all companies that work or produce serially will generally have problems maintaining their productivity with only four working days per week. But he doesn’t want to rule it out either: “In general, we recommend our member companies to find individual working time regulations that are as flexible as possible,” says Bianchi. Those who choose the four-day week should use it.

So far, this has rarely happened in Germany. IG Metall brought such models into the discussion for the metal and electrical industry. However, the union had not demanded full wage compensation, but would have agreed to a small wage cut – although not in accordance with the reduced working hours. Under these circumstances, Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Institute for Economic Research, could also imagine a four-day week. The economist already commented on this in the Passauer Neue Presse in 2020. However, this was at a time when the Corona crisis was sweeping the country and ideas of wage increases were rather unpopular.

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