Does Valencia’s trial of the four-day working week mean we are heading towards a new world of work?

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

The land of the brave, its very name means valor. Lucky soldiers. With 300 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 19 degrees, it is already a good place to live.

But if a recent four-day-a-week pilot program is continued, it could soon be even better.

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

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For several weeks in April and May, employees across the city reduced their work weeks.

Measuring the impact

According to an evaluation of the initiative carried out by Valencia City Hall, the weeks were chosen because they already included three public holidays, to which a fourth was added, to give four consecutive long weekends.

The evaluators then measured the impact on citizens in terms of health and well-being, the environment and, to a lesser extent, the economy.

Unsurprisingly, they saw a much better work-life balance, with respondents reporting they were spending more time with friends and family. More time was also spent on cultural, educational and creative activities, as well as more time in parks and gardens.

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

Not everything was good. The results also indicated that there was more smoking and drinking, even among those who already consumed them regularly.

It also highlighted additional concerns around loneliness, particularly among older people. It also appears that older workers may have felt some stress about completing their work in a shorter time frame.

The environmental benefits, however, have been considerable with a reduction in traffic – and congestion – leading to a reduction in nitrogen dioxide particles in the air.

A significant impact

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

To begin with, the big sectoral winners were hospitality, tourism and leisure, all of which benefited from increased spending.

The report’s analysts suggest that the increase in hospitality and leisure sales opens up the opportunity to create a career. However, while these sectors saw a slight increase, commercial sales generally saw a decline.

The evaluation also highlighted some gender disparities. When given a four-day week, women spent more time on caregiving tasks, including caring for the elderly. Men seem to have played more sports.

Although smaller in scale, similar studies have already taken place in a number of countries, including the UK and Portugal, and a new one is underway in Germany.

The existing research all seems uniformly positive.

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

When participants in a UK four-day week pilot were revisited a year later, a survey suggested that only 4% of businesses were “definitely not” continuing the four-day week, while 91% “were definitely “.

But, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development points out in a paper setting out employers’ views on a Scottish four-day week proposal, there are also challenges, including what to do with non-standard and self-employed workers.

“Should people who currently work four days a week or less get a pay increase? Would the four-day week disproportionately benefit managers and executives who earn higher salaries and work the most hours? What about employees who can become more productive, but don’t want to reduce their hours? he asks.

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

To implement a collective transition to the four-day week, companies would need a compensatory 25 percent increase in worker productivity, he points out.

Surprisingly, it’s the employees themselves who may prove to be their biggest obstacle. Ironically, in Valencia’s report, one of the biggest “negatives” of the entire experience of those surveyed seemed to be the fact that – wait for it – the stores were closed. Sheesh.

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