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Cross-cultural examination of the 4-Day work week in Europe and Asia

A four-day workweek means that full-time employees work four days weekly, compared to the traditional five-day workweek, receiving unchanged salary and compensation. Although the extension of weekends is widely appreciated, the uptake of this trend varies significantly across different nations of Europe and Asia. 

Cultural perspectives: 

In Europe, the 4 day work week reflects a growing acknowledgment of the importance of work-life balance. This, in turn, is influenced by the continent’s high standard of living. Several European nations started exploring the 4-day work week post-2020, but some countries initiated this trend much earlier. Iceland, for instance, started the largest four-day work week experiment, involving 1% of the total workforce way back in 2015. They continued it till 2019, proving it to be successful. Due to the success of this experiment, 86% of Iceland’s workforce is following suit. 

Meanwhile, in some parts of Asia, it’s still common for people to work six days a week. Asia is home to many countries with demanding working cultures having long working hours such as China, Japan and South Korea. This is because in Asia, hard work is often associated with success. This became clear when Narayan Murthy, the co-founder of Infosys, recently stated “My request is that our youngsters must say, This is my country; I’d like to work 70 hours a week.” 

Implementing Trends:

Post-Covid, with the introduction of work from home (WFH) options, many Asian countries also started shifting to a four-day work week. Employees in mature economies such as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia show a strong interest in transitioning to a four-day work week. Microsoft Japan and Panasonic started testing four-day work weeks. 

Although European countries have been at the forefront of adopting the 4-day work week. Countries including UK, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, Germany, France and Spain, have also embraced the concept of a four-day work week in recent years. 

Yet, the eagerness for shorter work weeks is not universal. This is evident in developing nations in Southeast Asia like China, India, Myanmar, and Cambodia. This is because in developing countries more working hours often means more money. Furthermore, traditional values toward hard work and dedication run deep in the employees and employers of these countries. 

Results and Challenges faced in different regions: 

Four-day work week brought important benefits along with some crucial challenges. Let’s look into some of the benefits of a 4-day work week model-

  • Increased productivity: Many companies and countries considered the four-day work week as an “overwhelming success” with the employees reporting increased morale, reduction in burnout and better work-life balance. Microsoft Japan reported a 40% increase in staff productivity. Employees are less burnt out and more innovative at work. 
  • Employee Satisfaction: The 4-day work week is seen as an attractive perk, contributing to higher job satisfaction and improved morale.
  • Environment impact: Fewer commuting days results in reduced carbon emissions. Estimates show around 15% reduction in carbon footprint simply by one day off per week. 

In addition to these benefits, there are many challenges to the four-day work week such as: 

  • Not fit for all industries: Sweden experimented with a four-day workweek for nurses but ultimately abandoned because it was not cost-effective. More employees have to be hired in such industries which defeats the purpose of a four-day work week. 
  • Scheduling concerns: Aligning client and customer coordination in a four-day work week introduces a new scheduling concern for a lot of industries. 

Future of 4-day work week: 

Despite the evident effectiveness of a four-day working week, its implementation on a larger scale is challenging. Asia still lacks behind considerably to the west in adopting a four day work week and even in Europe, more research is required to cement its future in work. 

Although the covid-19 pandemic forced companies to offer remote work with reduced working hours, companies are bringing the traditional work culture back. The idea of work-life balance with fewer working hours will stay in one way or another, more in developed European nations than in traditional Asian countries. 

Written by

Ganesh Choudhary

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