Many talk about it, some countries have tested it, some governments have encouraged it and more and more companies are starting to experiment with it around the world.
We are talking about the 'short' work week, reduced to 4 working days, from Monday to Thursday, with a long weekend of 3 days - and of course, without a reduction in pay.
In the post-pandemic era, several economists and sociologists highlight how important it is for companies to consider not just offering interesting salaries and benefits but, and above all guaranteeing a work-life balance that allows a clear improvement in quality of life.
Among the voices that support the validity of the 4-day work week, is that of Juliet Schor, Economist and Sociologist at Boston College, committed to studying the experiments in progress of the short week around the world. Her research focuses on the intersection of work, society, consumption and climate change. From tests conducted in Great Britain, the United States, Ireland and New Zealand, in the public and private sectors, the results are very clear and all in favour of the short week: workers are less stressed, have a better social life, appreciate more their work and, while it might seem absurd, they are absolutely more productive. In fact, while spending less time at work, people are not working less, because in exchange for a free day to devote to family, hobbies or personal needs, they make better use of their working time by increasing their productivity, without penalizing the quality of results.
Companies that embrace the short week must be convinced that spending less time at work helps workers to find the physical and mental energy needed to be more lucid and focused.. In addition, they can support their employees with a reorganization of work, for example by eliminating or limiting, as much as possible, the less productive and non-essential activities.
Juliet Schor's research then highlights the impact that the reduction of the working week has on the climate crisis. With the four-day week, commuting is obviously reduced, creating a dynamic of long-term decarbonisation. Because when people are stressed by time, they aim to choose faster and more polluting modes of travel and daily activities, while when they have more time they tend to have a lower carbon footprint.
But the biggest reason has to do with the size of the economy. By choosing to work less, countries are choosing not to expand production to the maximum, thus avoiding additional emissions. As evidenced by the carbon-related success stories of Germany and Denmark which have low annual hours. France and the Netherlands also have low carbon emissions and working times.
And in Italy? Taking into account that our country is the second in Europe for the amount of hours worked per week (on average 7 more than those of Germany), the pandemic has led to greater work flexibility - an important development of smart-working and also to the phenomenon of the great resignations.
So in Italy some companies have also started experimenting with the short week. The first were medium-sized companies operating mostly in the digital, marketing and communication sector, but it is news these days that the largest Italian banking group, Intesa San Paolo, is proposing to its employees they reduce the week to four working days, spreading the 36 hours over 4 days, with unchanged salaries.
Negotiations with the trade unions are underway, but it is certain that the work of the 21st century goes in this direction and, as Juliet Schor also points out in her TED speech, it is necessary that governments understand the importance of reducing the working week and take charge of encouraging it, as happens in Spain and Belgium, to go beyond the enlightened companies that already see the virtues of this new work organization.