The Four-Day Working Week Experience: Is Thursday the New Friday?

Companies like Libri and Telekom in Hungary are "taste-testing" the implementation of a four-day workweek through the use of pilot projects that are informed by past experience and employee feedback.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been more hesitant to adopt this new organizational structure.

History of the four-day working week

"Even the seven-day working week was not uncommon during the industrialization period until the beginning of the 20th century. The introduction of a system of five working days a week and two rest days was a slow process throughout the world. In Hungary, it was only introduced in 1982, until which time Saturday was also a working day.

Surprisingly, there were those who proposed a four-day working week quite early on. It was first raised by Walter Reuther, an American trade union leader, in 1950, and then started to be discussed again after the 2008 global economic crisis. In Utah, he was the first to attempt to introduce a Monday-Thursday working week to cut costs. However, workers had to work 10 hours a day instead of 8." - writes munkaügyifó

And according to CX-Ray, the industrial age saw a 14-16 hour working week, 6 days a week, which was first reduced to 10 hours a day in 1817 by the manufacturer Robert Orwen, who found that this did not compromise productivity.The 10-hour working day was introduced in the UK only 30 years later, and it was not until 1 May 1890, the fourth anniversary of the Haymarket Square riots, that the Second International took action for an 8-hour working day. The five-day working week was introduced by Henry Ford, but was only gradually implemented in Hungary between 1967-84.

The four-day working week and workers: different life situations, different needs, but the wage must stay the same!

Telekom, together with PwC Hungary, also launched a national representative survey* on the subject to explore the views of labour market players on the 4-day working week and its impact on their lives, which was published in November 2022.  

The results show that the majority of respondents (84%) would prefer to work 4 days a week as opposed to the current 5 day working week. Within this, the "4 days, 8 hours, no change in pay" and "4 days, 9 hours, no change in pay" models were found to be the most attractive, provided that workers' pay is not affected by the change in working hours.

The research clearly shows that

workers' preferences are shaped by different life situations:

younger people would be willing to work up to 4 days, 10 hours a week (41% of under-30s consider this option somewhat acceptable) instead of the current 5 days 8 hours a week, but this option is not acceptable to everyone: the majority of those close to retirement are rather reluctant, and only 13% over 50 consider it acceptable to work in such a model.

The survey highlighted that

the majority of workers are optimistic about reducing their working hours, and would use the time freed up to improve their physical and mental health, spend time with family and friends and recharge their batteries.

Four-day working week for SMEs: a necessary plus for recruitment?

“Competition for developers is fierce, and as a small rural business we are in a particularly difficult position compared to the big firms in Pest. The world has opened up since the pandemic, thanks to the fact that remote working in IT has become almost standard, so competition has gone international, with many people working from home for foreign companies.

However, following the introduction of the 4-day working week, our previously less effective job advertisements suddenly became very attractive to developers,

in the week of the launch, we had two interviews for positions that had previously had few applicants. This proved that the perks we used to offer (much like start-ups and SMEs to give them a competitive edge) are now more commonplace, such as an in-office cinema, a ping-pong table, or even a dog-friendly workplace.

Although we cannot yet draw any firm conclusions, employees clearly appreciate this initiative and

it is currently a competitive advantage as an employer that many prefer even to higher wages:

even though they can earn more working from home for a foreign company, the continuous long weekend results in a completely different quality of life. The advantage of small companies is that they can adapt more easily and quickly to significant changes, even in the development of solutions and the introduction of new technologies, but we also try to be innovative in organisational development and the creation of an optimal work-life balance," Thomas Pentz, CEO of Pécs-based Cubicfox, tells Connect Magazine.

The company also considered it important to measure the impact of the four-day working week, so a survey was carried out before the introduction and after the trial period. The questionnaire survey clearly showed that

employees experience an improved work-life balance.

And when asked about their ability to manage their time, they were more positive since the change, and the motivational power of the 4-day working week was also stronger in the surveys in the second and fifth months after the introduction.

There was also a clear improvement in sleep and rest, which is interesting because they suggest that the extra 1 hour of work required over 4 days seems to be offset by the effect of the long weekend.

"What we're seeing beyond the survey is that there is undoubtedly less office ping-pong parties and more hustle and bustle at work, but we're clearly seeing that an extra hour a day and a bit more focus can make up for half a day a week of downtime in performance. In addition, there is a clear improvement in morale and team cohesion, with more people organizing joint activities on Friday mornings, such as going to the gym while others work.  

In addition, we have also seen that the long weekend has increased the willingness of employees to spend over the weekend. Meanwhile, we also had to communicate the changes to our partners, as the new system meant that we had to rethink Friday support, which we typically do at an increased hourly rate.

However, we are very careful to ensure that projects and meetings are not left to the usual days, because Thursday should not become the new Friday," adds Thomas Pentz.

* the survey was conducted between 03.08.2022 and 09.07.2022, interviewing more than 12 thousand people aged 17-70.

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