Luís Gonçalves Lira

Senior Associate | Labour

June 8, 2022

The Vulgarization of the 4-Day Work Week

The issue of the 4-day work week has been the subject of media attention for quite some time, which is understandable. In theory, who doesn’t want a 4-day work week?

However, it is important to bring up some relevant points that, in most cases, are not observed. The idea we are left with is that, nowadays, anyone feels capable of approaching this subject, only because it’s in the media. Not quite true!

I find myself, in particular, working on a PhD thesis on the subject of “The Reduction of Working Time: a 4-day working week?”, so I believe I am in a reasonable position to be able to look at the subject in a more scientific and less sensationalist way.

As it can be seen, the 4-day working week is, in view of the labor legislation in force, possible, through the concentrated schedule (concentrating the 40 hours week into 4 days, 10 hours of work per day), or by reducing the normal work period, with professionals working part-time, namely 32 hours a week, 8 hours a day – in this case, with salary implications (proportional reduction).

However, the genesis behind the now famous “4-day week” concept does not follow this reasoning. The logic – contrary to what some articles refer to, or that some companies promote – is not the reduction in wages, nor the overloading of daily working hours to compensate for the 5th day not worked. The “4-day week”, as it has been gradually researched and implemented, slowly, namely in countries such as Belgium or Iceland, advocates a different reality: working less, receiving the same, producing more.

The conclusion that has been reached is that workers are currently not productive in the usual 8 hours of daily work. And, if this is the case, by reducing the hours in which they are not productive, we can consider the existence of a shorter full-time work period, with gains in terms of productivity, to the extent that workers will feel motivated to perform their activities and tasks, knowing that they will have 3 rest days, instead of the usual 2 rest days (under the rule regime). Naturally, each sector of activity will have its own specificities, because, in many companies, there are not 2 days of rest, but only 1. In that case, the reality in question will have to be reassessed differently.

Furthermore, under public service work, a normal working week of 35 hours is planned, which is much closer to the 32 hours desired by the 4-day week than under the private regime, in which, for this, we’ll have a reduction of 8 hours per week.

Clearly, we are dealing with an extremely sensitive issue and one that necessarily implies education and explanation of the benefits, so that employers can understand the benefits that come with an implementation of this type.

Abstractly, and without a critical sense, a reduction of this kind will mean, in the mind of the average businessperson, a cost, since they will have to pay the same for the execution of fewer hours of work. In this sense, pilot projects are extremely relevant, in order to demonstrate that, effectively, the productivity and profitability of workers, per day, is less than 8 hours. And, thus, justify the importance of reducing the normal working period, not only without loss of profitability, but with an increase in it, due to the recognition, by the workers, of the advantages that this regime can bring them.

However, contrary to what Pedro Gomes states, in his book “Friday is the new Saturday”, we believe that this regime should be accompanied by the implementation of an exclusivity regime, otherwise the useful effect of this measure will be clearly dissipated. That is, if the worker can, on the “extra” day, exercise another activity, the productive benefits may be mitigated.

If it is concluded that its implementation is feasible, it will clearly have to be done gradually, considering the specificities of each sector of activity, and not indiscriminately – otherwise its useful effect will be depleted.

In any case, it is important to emphasize that this extremely relevant topic, which is now finding parliamentary substance in Portugal, should not be vulgarized, guaranteeing the rigor of the study it deserves, so that society is not led to believe that this is a different reality from what, strictly speaking, the 4-day working week intends to advocate.