From Japan to Belgium: How These Countries Are Leading the 4-Day Workweek Movement

How These Countries Are Leading the 4-Day Workweek Movement

A glimpse into the countries at the forefront of the four-day workweek movement.

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work. As remote work and flexible arrangements become the norm, the idea of a four-day workweek is gaining traction worldwide. This alternative work model promises to improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction and well-being, and promote gender equality in the workplace. It can also have a positive impact on the environment by reducing transportation-related emissions.

As more and more companies recognize these benefits, an increasing number of countries are embracing the four-day workweek. In this article, we’ll explore which countries have embraced this new approach to work.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) becomes the first country to adopt a 4.5-day workweek

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) made headlines in 2022 by transitioning from a traditional five-day workweek to a four-and-a-half-day workweek starting January 1. The transition is a significant step for the UAE as it becomes the first country in the world to implement this change. This move also aligns the UAE more closely with the work schedules of Western countries. Previously, the UAE observed a Friday-Saturday weekend, which is a common practice in many Muslim-majority nations.

According to the UAE Government Media Office, the move to a four-and-a-half-day workweek is part of an effort to improve work-life balance, promote social well-being and increase work performance to enhance the country’s economic competitiveness. The implementation has received positive feedback, with experts at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in May 2022, highlighting the advantages of flexible work arrangements in retaining talent and increasing productivity.  

Since implementing the shorter workweek, the UAE’s Minister for Government Development and the Future has reported positive outcomes. Nearly 70 percent of workers reported increased productivity, and there was a significant 55 percent reduction in absenteeism. The UAE’s decision to adopt a four-and-a-half-day workweek sets a leading example of how progressive and employee-friendly policies can contribute to a more productive and motivated workforce. 

Japan’s plans to encourage four-day workweeks

In June 2021, Japan’s government announced its annual economic policy guideline, which included plans to encourage employers to adopt four-day workweeks. This marks a significant shift in Japan’s work culture, which has long been characterized by long work hours and a strong emphasis on face time in the office.

The government’s new guideline urges companies to provide their employees with the choice of a four-day workweek, which could be used for childcare, eldercare or personal development. Some major companies, such as Fast Retailing Co. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc., have already adopted a four-day workweek, while Panasonic Holdings Corp., has made it an optional arrangement for its employees.

However, compensation policies for employees who opt for a four-day workweek vary among companies. For example, employees at Mizuho Financial Group who work four days per week may face a reduction in their income. Despite this, Japan’s push for a four-day workweek is a clear sign of changing attitudes towards work-life balance and flexible work arrangements.

Belgium offers a four-day workweek without pay reduction

Belgium has become the latest country to offer a four-day workweek without any reduction in pay. This legislation, effective from November 21, 2022, enables employees to choose between a four-day or five-day workweek.

Under the new law, employees work the same number of hours per week as they would in a five-day workweek, but the hours are compressed into four days instead of five. While the policy primarily targets the private sector, companies have the autonomy to decide whether to provide their employees with the option of a four-day workweek. However, not everyone will have access to this option, as the policy does not cover the public sector.

Other countries conducting pilot programs for shorter workweeks 

The trend towards a shorter workweek is not limited to the countries mentioned above. Several countries are conducting pilot programs to adopt shorter working weeks, including the United States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. These schemes aim to boost productivity, enhance work-life balance and happiness and decrease unemployment rates. The non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global is at the forefront of these initiatives.

In Spain, the government has launched a three-year experiment aimed at reducing the workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours without a reduction in pay. The experiment began in September 2021 and will involve 200 companies across the country.

Apart from government initiatives, several UK companies are also embracing the four-day workweek after a successful six-month trial. Launched on June 6, 2022, the pilot program is the largest of its kind to date, with over 3,300 employees and 61 companies across various sectors participating. The experiment found that most employees experienced reduced stress levels and an improved work-life balance, leading many companies to permanently adopt reduced work hours.

The movement towards shorter workweeks is gaining traction in the tech industry as well. Companies such as Microsoft, Shopify and Basecamp have already implemented or experimented with four-day workweeks and more are expected to follow suit. While it remains uncertain whether a fully mandated four-day workweek will become the norm in the future, the ongoing experiments and pilots are undoubtedly moving us closer in that direction.

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