In Europe, the weekend is an institution. We imagine those two free days to be sacred. A lot of people are surprised to discover that the modern concept of the weekend emerged as recently as the mid-1930s!
It took more than 200 years to get from the Sunday ‘day of rest’ of pre-industrial Europe, to the two full days off which we enjoy today. Now there are indications that a further increase is on the cards.
The UK’s Four Day Week Campaign is one of a number of like-minded organisations worldwide putting the case for a shorter working week. It has attracted support from pundits like the New Economics Foundation, Build Back Better, and from sections of the UK Labour Party. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has gone further still, pledging ahead of the 2021 election to set up a £10m fund “to allow companies to explore the benefits of a four-day working week.”
Although support for the idea among employers is more patchy, it’s far from negligible. There’s a long-standing tradition of four-day weeks in Silicon Valley, for example, which continues to exert influence within the computer industry. High-profile outfits Microsoft Japan and Unilever NZ have both taken the COVID pandemic as an opportunity to enter extended trials, and scores of smaller players have recently gone on the same path.
The Spanish innovation
However, the single most significant development for advocates of a shorter working week is taking shape as we speak. The Spanish government has announced that, this September, Spain will become the first country in the world to trial a four-day, 32-hour regime.
The three-year, €50m pilot project will see 200 to 400 Spanish companies introducing reduced working weeks while maintaining existing salary levels. The government will use the EU Coronavirus Recovery Fund to compensate participating businesses for any consequential loss of earnings.
How will it work out? While outliers like Software Delsol who have already adopted the 32-hour week report positively on the results, it’s worth pointing out that the Spanish experience is substantially different from that of the UK. (The nation maintained the tradition of the siesta up until the last decade or so, and many Spaniards felt that its demise had resulted in an uncompensated increase in working hours – so a reduced working week could be viewed as a reversion to trend.)
Nevertheless, it’s still a good idea for UK personnel and HR departments to consider the possible effects of a nationally-mandated four-day week. Assuming you don’t opt simply to shut down on Fridays, you will need to further the management practices that have seen us all through lockdown, finding ways to co-ordinate the work of staff who aren’t always in the office on the same days and signing up part-timers and temps to cover any shortfall.
It goes without saying that LeavePlanner, with its powerful timesheet and management capabilities, will be a powerful resource if and when the time comes to deal with this challenge. Call us today to find out more.