April 17, 2024
Does Valencia’s four-day workweek trial mean we’re headed for a brave new world of work?



The Spanish city of Valencia was founded by veteran Roman soldiers, given land in return for their service in various campaigns.

The land of the brave, its very name means valiance. Lucky soldiers. With 300 days of sunshine a year and average temperatures of 19 degrees, it’s already a terrific place to live.

But if a recent four-day week pilot programme is pursued, it may soon be even better.

Earlier this year Valencia became the first city in the world to trial a four-day working week.

For a number of weeks in April and May, employees across the city undertook a shorter working week.

Measuring impact

According to an evaluation of the initiative, which was driven by Valencia City Council, the weeks were chosen because they already included three bank holiday Mondays, to which were added a fourth, to give four consecutive long weekends.

Evaluators then measured the impact on citizens across health and well-being, the environment, and, to a lesser extent, the economy.

Unsurprisingly, they found a much greater sense of work-life balance, with respondents indicating they spent more time with friends and family. More time was also spent on cultural, educational, and creative pursuits, as well as more time in parks and gardens.

Overall, people reported a greater sense of health and well-being and less stress.

It wasn’t all good. The results also indicated there was more smoking and drinking, albeit among those who already regularly indulged.

It also flagged up additional concerns around loneliness, particularly among older people. There is a suggestion too that older workers may have felt some stress around completing their work within the shorter framework.

The benefits for the environment were unalloyed however with a decrease in traffic — and traffic jams — leading to a fall in nitrogen dioxide particulates in the air.

A significant impact

One month was too short to have a significant impact on economic activity but some indicators emerged.

For a start, the biggest sectoral winners were hospitality, tourism, and leisure, all of which enjoyed increased spending.

The report’s analysts suggest increased hospitality and leisure sales opens up the possibility of career creation. However, while these sectors benefited from an uptick, commercial sales generally saw a decline.

The evaluation also flagged up certain gender disparities. When given a four-day week, women were found to spend more time on care duties, including elder care. Men seem to have played more sports.

Though not so wide-ranging, similar studies have already taken place in a number of countries, including the UK and Portugal, with a new one being underway in Germany.

What research exists all seems uniformly positive.

Employees love it, certainly. But even employers seem to see benefits, including increased morale and reduced absenteeism.

When participants in a UK four-day week pilot were revisited one year later, a survey suggested that only four percent of companies were ‘definitely not’ continuing with a four-day week, while 91 percent ‘definitely were’.

But, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development points out in a paper providing employer perspectives on a Scottish four-day week proposal, there are challenges too, including what to do with atypical and non-salaried workers.

“Should the people currently working a four-day week or less be given a pay rise? Would the four-day week disproportionately benefit managerial and director-level workers who are on higher salaries and work the most hours? What about those employees who can become more productive, but do not want to reduce their hours?” it asks.

In a cost-of-living crisis, working more hours is a cast iron way for people to earn more money.

To implement a collective move to a four-day week, businesses would need a compensating 25 percent rise in worker productivity, it points out.

Surprisingly, it’s employees themselves that may yet turn out to be their own biggest barrier. In the Valencia report, ironically, one of the biggest “negative aspects” of the whole experience for survey respondents seemed to be the fact that — wait for it — shops were closed. Sheesh.

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