Work less to enjoy more. Between employee well-being, increased productivity, lower unemployment and corporate attractiveness, the four-day week hasn’t made people dream yet. A dream come true in the UK, Spain or Iceland where it has been widely tested. On Tuesday, February 15, it was the turn of the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo, to announce a reform project that would allow workers to work one day less a week. In France, YPREMA, a company specializing in the recycling of demolition materials, took the plunge 25 years ago… and the results are excellent!
A pioneering company
The weekend is fine, but definitely too short. What if we had an extra day to really rest, start a new activity, or take part in life in our neighborhood? Since 1997, the employees of YPREMA, a company located in Chennevières-sur-Marne, east of Paris, have been able to experience this reality. As a pioneer, the company is still an exception in the professional landscape today.
However, since 1996, Robien’s law has allowed companies to reduce the working time of their employees by granting them a four-day work week. The implementation of these arrangements must then be compensated for by new hires or retention of staff if the company risks a redundancy plan.
It is in this context that YPREMA offers its employees to give up their 39-hour working week from 1 June 1997 instead of a four-day 35-hour working week. “It was long before the Aubry Act” (Editor’s Note: Act providing for a reduction in working time to 35 hours from the year 2000), welcomes Susana Mendes, general secretary of the company responsible for human resources.
In order to implement this new organization of working time, the company is organizing a referendum among its employees. As a result, a large majority of the 42 employees voted in favor of the project, against only four rejections. “It was something new at the time, but we dug deep into the matter beforehand to determine all the adjustments that were necessary. This forced us to organize our work schedules as we have absent employees every day who are in turn at rest. Because the business will run for five days”stresses Susana Mendes.
“It required setting up a buddy system, so that there was always someone who could guarantee the continuity of a service or function. And it’s been working for 25 years! †continues the secretary-general.
Since the Aubry Act, the Robien agreements have not been renewed and most of the companies that had followed the move have moved back. YPREMA has stayed on track to the delight of employees and management.
Regular hours and retention of salary
The procedures for switching to the four-day week differ in each country. For the employees of YPREMA, the new organization adopted in 1997 therefore provided for a reduction in working time in connection with salary retention. This is the model that Iceland adopted during its experiments between 2013 and 2019. Since then, following the general enthusiasm, the system has been made permanent.
In Belgium, the new emerging labor reform project plans to allow workers to keep their full-time jobs with equal pay, but for four days. They can also work “one week a little more and the next a little less, that offers some flexibility for people in a co-parenting situation”, underlines the project. This flexibility, decision makers hope, will help increase the productivity of employees who are more motivated and more rested.
In the United Kingdom, Spain, but also outside Europe in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Japan, these new ways of work organization are gradually becoming part of the mentality.
Well-being and attractiveness
It must be said that the benefits of the four-day week are many, says this OECD study. Between increased employee well-being, increased productivity and renewed attractiveness to businesses, the shortened week has something to tempt. Icelandic researchers also point out that workers are less stressed, less tired and more optimistic, the site reports. 20 minutes† And as icing on the cake, the measure would also reduce absenteeism due to illness.
“I am sure that if we had a referendum proposing to go the other way, we would get a majority of negative answers”says Susana Mendes. “It is an organization that is deeply rooted in the way the company works and in the minds of our employees. We don’t bring it up enough in our recruiting research”, rshe grumbles, “but during interviews it’s an argument that hits the spot”†
The ideal system in the industry
The HR manager nevertheless moderates: “Our system can be used in an industrial company. † Indeed, when the company introduced the four-day work week, productivity gains were at the heart of the agreement. If each employee’s individual working time has increased from 39 hours to 35 hours in four days, the company’s activity continues for five days. “Thanks to the staff rotation, we were able to extend the working time of the machines and thus produce more. As a result, the production time of the machines has gone from 39 hours to 43.75 hours per week.†
A win-win organization. “The company and the employees had to be able to get something out of these agreements. It also made it possible to improve the skills of our employees, as they are all able to perform two functions. †
25 years later, YPREMA is not resting on its laurels: on June 1, its employees will switch to a 32-hour working week, with retention of salary. “Always with the same goal of making our machines work harder, as the new technology in the industry now allows them to be pushed harder”says Susana Mendes.
An experiment in France?
If the YPREMA system adapts particularly well to the industrial environment, other branches can also be found there. The proof with companies like Welcome to the Jungle in the field of recruitment or LDLC, an IT company that introduced the four-day week a year ago.
So, if these companies succeed, why not generalize this solution by trying an experiment in France, just like we did with our European neighbors? This is what socialist Pierre Larrouturo, the losing candidate of the Popular Primary, has been campaigning for since 1993. Yannick Jadot, the environmental candidate in the presidential elections, for his part, is not closing the door on introducing some form of four-day work week.
When asked about BFMTV, Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne ruled out that the State would impose such a measure. For her, it’s up to each company to decide.
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) February 3, 2022
One thing is for sure, the four-day week is far from done with envious people…