Spain set to trial 4-day week in bid to boost productivity

Are long weekends the key to better productivity? Some experts think so

Spain set to trial 4-day week in bid to boost productivity

We all know the feeling of anticipation when a long weekend is approaching. The thought of snoozing your alarm, rolling over and going back to sleep is enough to bring a smile to most people’s faces. But what if it wasn’t a once-in-a-while treat. What if you could enjoy a three-day weekend every week?

For some workers in Spain, that will become a very real possibility. The Spanish government is planning to trial a four-day working week in a bid to increase flexibility and boost productivity. The small, nationwide trial, will enable around 200 companies to cut their employees working week to 32 hours, without reducing their salaries. Estimated to begin in September, it’s set to last three years and will cost an estimated $77 million (AUD) in European Union funding.

The trial is the result of a campaign by the political party Más País, a progressive organisation founded in 2019. Party leader Íñigo Errejón believes that now is the time to change how we view our work/life balance, bringing benefits for both society and the planet.

HRD spoke to Dr Amantha Imber, founder of Inventium, a behavioural science consultancy, who has made a four-day week permanent for her staff after first trialling their “Gift of the Fifth” pilot in July last year.

“It was really an idea that came off the back of COVID-19,” she said. “We wanted to really think about how we could improve the employee experience. Our CEO suggested the idea and we thought, let's run an experiment.”

Read more: Unilever NZ trials four-day week at full pay

Based in Melbourne, Inventium employees were among those who had experienced one of the longest lockdowns of anywhere in the world, and Imber said the endless uncertainty had taken its toll on everyone’s wellbeing.

In setting up the pilot, Imber said they deliberately framed it as an experiment. They took a data-led approach, setting out a clear hypothesis and how they planned to measure metrics like productivity, job satisfaction, and wellbeing.

“We then ran a pre mortem. We gathered the team and said ‘OK let's imagine that we do this, and it all goes belly-up in 12 months’ time, what would be the cause?” she said.

“That helped us to unearth some of the anxieties that people had around the idea and set in place guidelines that would help reduce the likelihood of it going wrong.”

The main concerns centred around how employees would get their work done in a reduced week, and whether it would limit opportunity for collaboration and team bonding. There was also concern that staff in some areas of the business would find it easier to implement than others, and that could cause resentment between the team.

As a business that specialises in behavioural insights and innovation, staff at Inventium were already well-versed in the science behind productivity. But Imber said additional training was the key to making sure staff felt prepared and able to function without being overwhelmed by the reduced hours.

Read more: 4 Day Week CEO on rethinking working hours: ‘At its heart, it's a conversation about productivity’

Reassessing meetings was one example of a productivity strategy. Now, staff at Inventium have to communicate the PAO – purpose, agency, and outcome - in every meeting invite if they want their colleagues to attend. Imber said this strategy “sets a bar” for organising a meeting, rather than it being the default thing to do.

The other big shift has been moving to asynchronous work, where not everyone is expected to work on a project at the same time. Again, instead of starting a project with a meeting to discuss their thinking, team members begin with their individuals workings and use technology tools to collaborate, before coming together to flesh out the details.

When the pilot concluded in December, Imber said they saw a 26% increase in productivity. Energy levels rose by 21% and stress fell by 18%, all despite the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Now, nine months in, what started as a trial has become a permanent fixture.

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