Opinions differ on the idea of a four-day week: While many employees can easily imagine only working four days at full salary, companies naturally view the model more critically. Employers' associations are particularly opposed to political initiatives that would impose a kind of four-day obligation on them. The powerful union IG Metall, on the other hand, has spoken out in favor of a four-day week - even if it is unlikely to demand this in the next round of collective bargaining.
But how practical is the four-day week anyway? What advantages and disadvantages arise for employees and companies? This is what a large-scale pilot project for Germany wants to find out. A six-month experiment is intended to show which findings from similar studies in Great Britain and other countries can be transferred to Germany.
The study now begins with the registration phase, in which interested companies can apply to take part. “The interest is huge,” says Julia Backmann, professor for the transformation of the world of work at the University of Münster, to stern. She leads the accompanying scientific study. Although the official kick-off event only takes place this Thursday, numerous companies from very different areas have already reported that they want to take part. The organizers of the pilot study want to attract more than 50 companies to take part.
The pilot project is coordinated by the Berlin management consultancy Intraprenör in cooperation with the organization 4 Day Week Global, which is promoting the topic worldwide. The non-governmental organization has already conducted similar studies in other countries. The advisory board for the German study also includes representatives from the employers' association, the craft association, IG Metall and other experts from the world of work.
There are different concepts that can be understood by a four-day week. The experiment should run according to the 100-80-100 model. This means: 100 percent pay for 80 percent working time with 100 percent productivity. It is therefore assumed that employees will perform just as much as before despite the four-day week - a crucial point in getting companies to take part. The 100-80-100 formula has already been the basis for experiments by the organization 4 Day Week Global in other countries.
The project starts with the registration phase: Companies can register to take part in the experiment until November 30th. This is followed by a two-month planning phase in which companies prepare for the introduction of the four-day week with the help of external experts. The actual test phase then lasts six months and runs between February and August 2024. The results will then be evaluated and published.
In principle, everyone who gets involved in the experiment. "Companies that are looking for approaches to improve employer attractiveness, retention and productivity in the team can try out the four-day week within the pilot study. All industries and sectors and sizes of companies are relevant," it says Intraprenör login page.
Since the companies themselves have to actively ensure participation, a sample that is representative of the business world cannot be expected. Experience from past studies shows that companies that find it easier to implement are more likely to come forward. Study director Backmann still hopes that not only companies with “office jobs” will come forward, but also companies from the manufacturing and craft industries. And: “I would be happy if companies that are critical of the four-day week also took part.”
First of all, pay a participation fee of between 500 euros (less than ten employees) and 15,000 euros (more than 1000 employees), which the organization 4 Day Week Global uses to finance its work. In return, they receive know-how and training on how managers, employees and teams can implement the four-day week in the company. “Companies have to question their processes and, for example, rethink meeting times,” says scientist Backmann. The use of automation and artificial intelligence is also an issue.
The project also allows for flexibility in the specific design of the four-day week. “We don’t want to impose one concept on everyone, but rather allow for flexibility,” says Backmann. If a company prefers to give employees two half days off instead of a full day, they can still participate. Creative solutions would also have to be found when dealing with part-time workers. "It's about testing and experimenting."
Ideally ones that show how things can get better for everyone – employees, companies and even the environment. The goal of the four-day week is to increase productivity, improve employee well-being and also promote equality and climate protection, according to Intraprenör's campaign page.
Study leader Backmann wants to rely on surveys as well as collect data that is as objective as possible. For example, employees can be asked in interviews about their well-being and the compatibility of job and family, and the number of sick days can also be recorded. She would even like to equip some test subjects with trackers that measure sleep. An effect on climate protection could arise, for example, through lower energy consumption.
Experiments that 4 Day Week Global conducted in other countries produced very positive results. For example, in the British experiment that ran in the second half of 2022: Employees were significantly less sick and generally happier. Employers, for their part, had to cope with fewer staff departures and, on balance, even increased their productivity slightly. 56 out of 61 British companies wanted to maintain the four-day week beyond the test period.
It should be noted that the British participants were not selected at random, so that companies that assumed a benefit from the four-day week from the outset probably took part. Critics also object that long-term effects are not adequately captured by a six-month test.