Four days of work and five days of salary. Good for mental health, but also for circulation

Marco Rox wouldn’t want it any other way. When he opened his accounting firm NXT LVL three and a half years ago, he immediately introduced a four-day work week. By the way, without his five employees having to give up salary. They get paid for 40 hours, but they work 32 hours. The office in Twillow, not far from Deventer, is closed on Fridays.

The founder wanted his colleagues to have the opportunity to develop outside of work. “This can be done through teaching, a supervisory position, or working in creative ways.” This means diversity for employees, and it also makes the company more productive. Not because employees are doing more in the same hours, but because they often wonder: Is what I’m doing now really necessary?

Interest in the four-day work week has been growing in recent years. Software company Afas announced on Wednesday that it will introduce the model starting next year. With nearly 700 employees and an annual turnover of $290 million, the company from Leusden is one of the largest Dutch companies to make such a move. This is an experiment that will initially last for a year.

According to Afas, the world has ended up in a “rat race” to do more and more in less time. As support, the company points to its own productivity: almost thirty years ago, the annual turnover per employee when it was founded was 60 thousand euros, and last year it was 450 thousand euros. At the same time, there is less time for things “that really matter in life,” Afas wrote in an explanation to employees.

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The IT company expects that the arrival of artificial intelligence will enable employees to become more productive in the coming years. Technology can take over tasks, allowing employees to do the same work in less time. But that’s no reason to give them extra work, says Afas. Working less on one day does not lead to working more on other days or achieving higher goals.

Slim

While the four-day working week in the Netherlands is mainly an initiative of individual companies, some other countries are already trialling it on a larger scale. For example, a trial has been conducted in Germany since spring of this year in 45 companies to gather experience. Portugal began a similar experiment at the end of last year, among 41 companies.

The largest trial to date took place in the UK, where 61 companies introduced the four-day workweek for six months in June 2022. The result after six months: the number of stress and burnout complaints among the 2,900 employees decreased significantly. Many participants also felt that they could combine their work and home tasks better.

Not only did the employees benefit from this switch, but the companies themselves also benefited. Sales during the trial period were 34 percent higher on average than in the previous six months. Employee turnover also decreased sharply by 57 percent. More than a year later, the experiment is still ongoing in 90% of participating companies, and half of them have decided to introduce the four-day working week permanently.

Annick Viken, director of software company Ecare from Enschede, understands this. Her organization (125 employees) supplies products to healthcare and switched to four-day work at the beginning of last year. “We conducted a six-month trial. After that we can say with complete confidence: We will continue to do this.”

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Initially, the switch cost money, because employees who had previously worked four days also received full pay. But “these costs are negligible” compared to the return, says Viken. Productivity rose sharply and absenteeism decreased, which in turn made a difference in spending. “People are more focused and have more time in their private lives to arrange things they might be doing at work.”

Participants in the British experiment also noted that transformation poses problems for companies. Because it may be relatively easy to take a break from office work on a Thursday afternoon, but how do you do it in factories where machines run perfectly day and night? Or in customer service? For some companies, this was a reason to choose an alternative that would allow their company to continue operating throughout the week: sometimes people work fewer hours per day, or everyone has different days off.

According to Ecare’s Fikken, this is not an ideal compromise. She believes that it is precisely this collective day off that makes the four-day work week so effective. “As a result, people who enjoy freedom really get a break.” They don’t receive calls from colleagues who are off for another day, and they don’t start the new week with a “backlog” of missed calls. Accountant Rox and automation specialist Afas also chose to take a fixed day off for this reason. Exceptions are made only for parts that must be accessible, such as customer service in the event of breakdowns.

No more “bill by the hour”

This switch was a reason why Rooks took another look at its revenue model. He says “hourly billing” is the standard in accounting. “You work for a client for a number of hours, at a certain rate.” But in the new reality, it should not be about hours, but about results. That’s why he now charges fixed rates, for example, for an annual audit.

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Where Dutch transfers differ is in how they spend their day off. For example, in Afas they openly talk about “Development Day”. The idea behind this is for employees to spend Friday doing activities that are beneficial to themselves or the world: an old hobby, an extra day with the kids, informal care, volunteer work. So “watching Netflix all day” or looking for a paid job “is not our preference,” according to the company.

On the other hand, Accountant Rocks talks about having a day off. If someone does something and gets paid for it, because it gives him energy, then he should do it happily. Fikken from Ecare also talks about a day off. We said: Do whatever you want with it. Just don’t try to find a part-time job. One of his colleagues did, but he has since returned.




Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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