Work less to earn the same. Three days on weekends. Spain is looking for volunteers from hundreds of companies to conduct an experiment that could shed light on what the future of business relationships will look like – especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The proposal, put forward by the left-wing party Más País, is to take a small-scale test of what happens to companies ’productivity when their employees work only 32 hours a week, instead of the usual 40.
This means a 5 to 4 day reduction when the team is actually working – however, without there being a relative pay cut.
“The fact that this idea is being developed as a pilot is really a positive. This is the gold standard for assessing the success of public policies,” explains Carlos Victoria, economist and researcher at the Center for Economic Policy at Esade. Business school based in Spain.
At first glance, it can be assumed that an employee who works fewer hours will produce less for the simple fact that his or her journey is shorter.
However, past experiences have shown that after a transition period, worker welfare increases and a cascade of positive impacts begins, with reactions to productivity, Victoria says.
“What happens in companies that really try to reduce the workday is that they become a mechanism for attracting talent. Workers prefer to go to companies with better working conditions,” says Hector Tejero, Más País project coordinator, and he enumerated another notable side effect.
Among companies already testing the 4-day week is the DELSOL program – which reported a 30% reduction in forced absenteeism in the first month, compared to the same period last year.
“There is more engagement with the company, and the workers produce more because they relax more. They are more creative. They also see less turnover. Fewer people leave,” Tigreux says.
For the politician, the pandemic caused many people to stop thinking and start looking for more time to be with family.
“The issue of mental health and the balance between personal and professional life also comes in this context,” he says.
A greater service challenge
Esade economist Carlos Victoria lists among the challenges of the experiment to determine the significance of the results, which will determine how much they can be replicated for the economy as a whole.
For him, even if there was an increase in productivity in some firms, this did not necessarily mean that the result would be a “revolution in labor relations”.
“This is a small experiment. We also have to bear in mind that in some sectors it will be more difficult to implement than others.”
Among these sectors are services such as bars, restaurants, beauty salons or doctors’ offices.
The economist says: “There is no, by definition, the ability to do the same work in less time.”
However, Spain itself has a successful example in the hospitality sector, where days are traditionally 6 days a week.
A few months ago, La Francachela’s restaurant chain reduced its employee workweek to 4 days, while keeping the wage for the 60-person team. The changes started with restaurant closures due to the pandemic.
“The two partners are also the mother of two young children,” says Maria. “Because of confinement, we found ourselves in a very precarious situation. When the restaurants reopened in May, we didn’t want the staff to experience what happened to us.” Alvarez, the founding partner of the company.
Then, management began analyzing what could be implemented and adapted to allow employees to reconcile work and family.
“We also wanted everything we learned from COVID-19 to act as a lever for a business transformation that would allow us to address what comes next with more flexibility.”
“What will come next” is the measures that the government is implementing to allow the sector to open up, but to protect workers and customers from the Coronavirus – the gradual opening of restaurants, the separation of tables and customers, and the thorough cleaning of all furniture between the service and others.
“So many things have changed, we needed to rethink the entire company.”
At the moment, due to the health crisis, only two restaurants in the chain are open, but there is a third restaurant ready to return to work as soon as possible.
Applications via WhatsApp
Applying the 4-day week allowed the chain to reconfigure the shift schedule, Alvarez says, with the team divided into two groups, who would have minimal contact with each other.
“The other thing that allowed us to do was to be more flexible in service.”
WhatsApp was also a critical factor in improving productivity.
“We no longer have any waiters around. The customer asks for WhatsApp from the table and from there the waiter gets called. With this, we end up with unproductive hours that the staff passes through the hall. Since we are serving more people, we bill more. We work from 10 am Morning at 11 pm.
“Then we reformulated the menu, eliminated the dishes that were demanding of a lot of work. We also bought new machines for the kitchen, such as a vegetable slicer, and improved all internal processes,” he explains.
Initially, the Spanish government will finance the pilot project being implemented in the country, and support the cost of the companies by reducing the weekly workload.
The approved amount is 50 million euros (about 325 million Brazilian reals), which will be distributed to a group that must include between 200 and 400 companies for a period of up to three years.
“We had proposals even before the project was launched,” says Tiggero.
The interest raised is not small.
However, it will take some time for the project to be implemented in the various sectors.
“It has to be an incremental thing, going hand in hand with companies and other social agents,” says Tiggero.