After a test of several months, around sixty British companies intend to adopt the 4-day working week for good. In France, some took the turn several years ago. The key, according to them, is increased performance and happier employees.
Work less, earn as much, produce more. The equation makes you dream at least as much as it seems insoluble. And yet: in the United Kingdom, around sixty companies took part in a test, conducted from June to December 2022. A more than conclusive test, since nine out of ten companies say they are certain to keep this pace, according to a press release published by the NGO 4 Day Week Global, organizer of the experiment in connection with, in particular, the universities of Cambridge and Boston College.
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A similar experiment, carried out in Iceland from 2015 to 2019, involved 2,500 workers, who went from 40 to around 35 hours, over four days, with no reduction in pay. Conclusion: “a resounding success”, according to two British and Icelandic think tanks, with a reduction in stress, a better work-life balance and a constant productivity, even increasing. Promising results that provoke debate in other countries, such as in Spain, which paved the way for similar tests last March.
The pioneers of the 4-day week
In France too, some companies have taken up the challenge, such as the job search and work information portal Welcome to the Jungle. “We are interested in the balance between pro life and personal life, but we felt that the RTT and paid leave were not a sufficient solution”, explains Jérémy Clédat, its founder. For him, the real question is that of the pace of work. In June 2019, the company’s 100 employees therefore saw their working hours reduced for a six-month test. “We do not go to 4/5th but to 4/4th. We believe that this should be the normal rhythm, so it was clear from the start that we were not touching wages, ”says the company manager. Before reaching this decision, the management of Welcome to the Jungle called on a consulting firm, a neuroscientist, a data scientist and a specialist in work rhythms, all responsible for precisely measuring the impact of the 4-day week.
Which, according to their findings… is initially negative. “A month after the start of the test, we saw an overall performance drop of 20%. We worked to solve that and, six months later, we were above our level when we worked 5 days. The gamble paid off: a charter, signed by the staff representatives, confirms this new work rhythm. Which is based only on an effective organization, according to Jérémy Clédat.
Prioritize projects and organize your time
You can work better without being more tired
Olivier Sâles, co-founder of Love Radius
“There are two main areas for it to work, explains Jérémy Clédat: better time management, by eliminating unnecessary meetings, for example, and prioritizing projects to make choices that are really beneficial to the company.” The teams at Love Radius, a company selling baby carriers with offices in Toulon and Paris, adopt the same strategy every year from May to September. “Launch a recruitment, add a translation on the site or update product presentations… All these little things, which are not urgent, are postponed until September”, explains Olivier Sâles, the co-founder of the company. Make way for priorities then… and concentration. Because assuming the same workload with one day less requires a little rigor. “The days are more intense, people are not there to multiply the cigarette breaks or the small talk with their colleagues. Everyone concentrates and moves forward as efficiently as possible.” Without risk of overload, assures Olivier Sâles: it is not a question of working more, but more intelligently. “The key is that everyone has the will to look for useless actions that waste our time. But compressing your work doesn’t mean being under pressure. You can work better without being more tired.”
In this system, do you have to work overtime, in the morning or in the evening, to keep up? “For trades in permanent exchange with the outside world, such as sales teams, having 20% less time has a certain impact, admits Jérémy Clédat, from Welcome to the Jungle. No one has been seen to extend their working hours, but some have reduced their breaks. I don’t think it’s embarrassing.” Hence the importance of training teams in professional efficiency and independent management of their time.
More autonomy, more well-being
For everyone’s mental well-being, explains Jérémy Clédat: “One of the most interesting subjects identified by the neuroscientist who accompanied us is that the 4-day week gives everyone control over their agenda and that this has a direct impact on self-esteem. A third day off pushes everyone to prioritize, make conscious choices and make the best use of their time. But management has a role to play in avoiding overheating. “Instead of aiming for an objective without a clear deadline, we break it down into small intermediate tasks, defined with the employee, and whose progress we can follow over a week”, explains Olivier Sâles. A pragmatic and short-term vision that avoids getting lost in a heap of tasks, each as urgent as the next.
“For some professions, working 4 days is also a way to fight against hardship,” says Susana Mendes, general secretary of Yprema. This construction materials recycling company, with 100 employees today, adopted the 4-day week in 1997 for almost all of its businesses. Starting with the production teams, who carry out the most physically demanding work. “They went from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. daily work, and the breaks were kept. In this way, employees have almost as much rest time as work and save themselves the trip once a week,” explains Susana Mendes. Valuable time to take care of household chores… and really enjoy the weekends.
At Welcome to the Jungle, the weekend begins on Thursday evening for 76 employees out of 100: their colleagues preferred to be absent on Wednesday. If most disconnect for good, a third of employees continue to work during their day off, if only for an hour or two, to answer their e-mails, explains Jérémy Clédat. “Our organization is flexible: if you don’t want to work a single minute on your day off, the company must allow it. But if you want to move forward a little or close a file, you are free to do so. For the entrepreneur, who also accepts full telework, a 4-day week not only meets the need for free time: it also puts mutual trust back at the heart of the employer-employee relationship. The first undertakes to arrange the workload and to set reasonable objectives, the second, to do what is necessary to meet them.
“If we were able to go to 4 days, it’s because our employees were committed to providing quality service”, abounds Olivier Sâles, of Love Radius. And the after-sales service team can work on Friday mornings and have access to emails without it being experienced as an intrusion. In this case, the employees of the manufacturer of baby carriers have signed an endorsement which exempts them from presence on Friday: they are therefore not exactly on leave, and are covered in the event of an accident at work. A flexible system where everyone is constantly adapting, which relies entirely on the employer’s confidence in its employees. “We are 20 employees, everyone knows each other and that makes things easier, admits Olivier Sâles. I don’t know if it would be that easy in a big group.”
Originally published on February 13, 2020, this article has been updated.