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Demand for the four-day week at a DGB rally (archive): Different models

Photo: Michael Reichel / dpa

100-80-100 – is this the model of the future? A pilot project will soon be investigating this question in Germany, and employers will be able to apply to participate from Thursday. 100 percent performance in 80 percent of the time with 100 percent pay – in short: a four-day week – is to be tested over six months and the changeover is to be scientifically evaluated. "We hope to take the debate about the four-day week to a new level – with scientific support," says management consultant Jan Bühren of Intraprenör.

The Berlin-based company is organizing the project in Germany together with the organization Four Day Week Global. The NGO has already initiated such studies in other countries, including a high-profile project in the UK. "It bothers us that the entire discussion takes place in a vacuum, so to speak – because everything is only discussed in theory, but not tried out," says Bühren. This is now set to change in Germany as well.

Not all four-day weeks are the same

The pilot project explicitly relies on a four-day week, in which working hours are reduced, but salary and targeted performance are to remain the same. Other models, for example, envisage that less working hours are accompanied by lower wages. In addition, some smaller companies are trying their hand at a concept in which they work a little more on four days and then make up for the extra hours of the previous days with free time on the fifth day.

However, the first variant is the most discussed, i.e. less working time for the same wage. This is also what IG Metall is striving for when it calls for a four-day week in its demands for the next collective bargaining in the iron and steel industry. The idea behind it is that if you only have to work four days a week, you are more concentrated and motivated – and still successfully meet your requirements even in the shorter time.

Great approval

A study by the Hans Böckler Foundation, which is close to the trade union, recently came to the conclusion that the four-day week is a popular idea among employees – at least in combination with equal pay. In the foundation's survey, a good 73 percent said they would like to see a four-day week with correspondingly shorter working hours. Around 8 percent would also like to see them with lower wages. 17 percent rejected the four-day week. Among the reasons, the item "Because I want to have more time for myself" was mentioned most frequently (96.5 percent). This was followed by "Because I want to have more time for my family" (89 percent).

Those respondents who rejected the four-day week were particularly likely to say that they enjoyed their work (86 percent). 82 percent were skeptical that a reduction in working hours would change anything in their work processes. Around 77 percent assume that they would then no longer be able to do the work.

Small and medium-sized enterprises, on the other hand, are more sceptical about the four-day week. Individual solutions between employees and employers are to be advocated, said Christoph Ahlhaus, Federal Managing Director of the Federal Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises of the dpa. However, small and medium-sized enterprises reject state interference that provides for less working hours with full wage compensation, "because reduced working hours threaten productivity losses, from which first the companies and then we all have to suffer". He considers it impossible that a significant number of members will introduce a "state-imposed four-day week" in view of the shortage of skilled workers.

Successful test in Great Britain

After the four-day-week project in Great Britain, most of the participating companies drew a very positive conclusion. 56 out of 61 employers said they want to keep the four-day week. According to the study, sick days fell by around two-thirds (65 percent) during the test period and the number of employees who left the company during this period fell by more than half (57 percent). According to the analysis, the average turnover of the participating companies increased by 1.4 percent during the test phase. The analysis was carried out by researchers from Boston and Cambridge, who also conducted in-depth interviews with those involved.

However, the results are based on the evaluation of companies that had volunteered to participate. There was no random selection. In the UK, companies from the financial sector, IT and construction, as well as the hospitality and healthcare sectors participated. In total, the participating companies employ around 2900 people. Some companies introduced a three-day weekend across the board, while others staggered employees' days off over the week or linked them to targets.

Around 50 companies wanted in Germany

In Germany, the project is to proceed in a similar way to the UK: Interested companies can apply to participate from Thursday. Intraprenör has set itself the goal of convincing more than 50 companies in Germany to participate. The test period is also scheduled to begin this year.

The participating companies should then try out the four-day week for at least six months. During this period, according to Intraprenör, they will be able to rely on experts, learn new methods and exchange ideas with other employers. Contacts with companies that have already permanently switched to the four-day week are also to be made possible. The University of Münster is responsible for the scientific evaluation.