Work less for (almost) the same wage, how feasible is that? Such experiments have already been conducted in these countries.
Improved work-life balance, more productive and healthier employees, more jobs and longer careers. That’s what a shorter working week with a flexible work schedule can help us achieve. There has been increasing focus on these solutions in recent years due to the rising number of burn-outs, in Sweden and also in other countries. Interesting experiments with varying success.
The German metal sector: 28-hour week for a given period
In the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg, trade unions and employer organisations from the metal sector recently signed a special agreement. It stipulates, among other things, that employees – if they so wish – have to work 28 hours a week for a period of six months to two years, instead of the 35-hour weeks worked to date. They will retain part of their wages in that period. The trade unions are hoping to offer people more flexibility, and thus allow them to combine their work and private life more easily. The measure should work in the sector – which, in Germany, is plagued by labour shortages – making it more attractive, for young parents and voluntary caregivers for example.
30-hour work week in Swedish nursing home
The results of a Swedish experiment, in which the working week of 68 nurses in a Gothenburg nursing home was reduced from 37 to 30 hours, were published last year. The nurses were allowed to keep their full wages while their work schedule was adjusted. Additional staff had to be hired to fill the gaps in the work schedule, which meant an extra investment of 1.25 million euros. The nurses themselves were, however, incredibly enthusiastic. They had more energy, were sick less often and organised more activities for the nursing home residents.
Austrian experiment: more free time or higher wages
In Austria, yet another approach was chosen in 2013. A Freizeitoption, i.e. leisure time option, was incorporated in a collective labour agreement for the electromechanical sector. It stipulated that employees could choose between a three percent pay rise or three percent more free time per month – equivalent to about five hours. Employees had to enter into an individual agreement with their employer in order to be entitled to this choice. At the time, around ten percent of employees, especially men aged between 31 and 40, preferred the option of leisure time. The measure was subsequently adopted in other sectors. Recently, it was also introduced in Austria’s metal and transport sectors.
Work four days, get paid five in New Zealand
Companies like Amazon had already tried it; now it’s the turn of New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian: a four-day working week. The company specialises in wills and legacies and employs 200 people, spread over 16 offices. For six weeks staff worked only 32 hours instead of 40 hours a week. The big difference with the Amazon experiment is that Perpetual Guardian employees retained their full wages. The reasoning was that people become more productive when they strike a better balance between work and private life, and thus get more done in less time. Whether this is actually the case remains to be seen. The experiment will be evaluated in the coming months. If it turns out to be a success, the company will fully adopt the reduced working week from July onwards.
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