Portugal launches a 4-day week field trial

Last week sees the launch of a pilot trial of the 4-day week in Portugal. Thirty-nine companies are taking part, including 12 that have previous experience with shorter working hours. The aim of the project is to measure the impact of the 4-day week on employees’ physical and mental health, as well as the economic impact on companies. 
The companies have committed to reducing weekly working hours while maintaining full pay. Specifically, the 100-80-100 model will be used: Employees receive 100% of pay if they work 80% of the time and perform 100% of the time in return. Companies have volunteered for the program without receiving financial compensation. They can also reverse the measure at any time if they wish.
Participation was open to all private companies in Portugal. The project is now being carried out in collaboration with the non-profit organization 4-Day-Week-Global, which is contributing its expertise and supporting implementation.
Companies from production, trade, research – including daycare center and nursing home
The participating companies come from various industries. They include companies from the manufacturing sector, the retail trade and non-profit organizations. A daycare center, a nursing home, a research and development center and a stem cell bank are also part of the pilot project.
The main reasons for participating were to reduce stress and burnout risks among employees and improve employee retention.
The project is coordinated and supervised by Dr. Pedro Gomes, professor of economics, and Dr. Rita Fontinha, professor of strategic management. They will follow the companies’ experiences during the test to determine the economic, social and environmental impact of the four-day week.
“The future belongs to those who can attract the best workforce”
“So much has changed in society in the last 30 years: the technology we use, the speed at which we communicate, the types of jobs we do, the length of our lives or the role of women in society. But we still organize work in exactly the same way. We believe that the four-day week is a more efficient and sustainable way to organize work in the 21st century, and that it brings mutual benefits for workers, companies and the economy,” the project’s coordinators, Dr. Pedro Gomes and Dr. Rita Fontinha, explain the field trial.
“Portugal is taking another step into the future of work. The four-day workweek pilot project is based on the premise that work-life balance is crucial to attracting employees and improving productivity and innovation. The best companies are those that guarantee to provide space for talent and fulfillment for workers. This is just the beginning – a promising start – of one of the many changes we are implementing in the labor market of a country that has historically high employment levels and strives to attract and retain talent. The future belongs to those who can attract the best workers with strong skills and higher levels of satisfaction in a globally competitive marketplace where talent and people are the best resources.”

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A 4-day week feels like a world without cars for the climate

A comprehensive review of studies from Great Britain shows: Shorter working hours—in the form of a 4-day week—bring relief for the people and the climate. Because not only are we less burdened, so is the environment. In the UK, switching to a four-day week with full wage compensation would save as much CO₂ as taking all private cars off the roads.
Climate awareness in society has probably never been as high as it is now. At least when it comes to the urgency of counteracting climate collapse. According to a survey by the Austrian Climate Ministry, 8 out of 10 are convinced that we have to change our daily behavior in order to stop the climate crisis. The open question that remains is: how? Because small reforms are not enough. We know that here and in other countries.
A review of international studies now shows that a real turnaround in climate policy could be achieved in an area that many people do not even suspect—our working hours. Specifically, if we shorten them. This would achieve several goals at once: it would make the distribution of time more equitable, employees would stay healthy longer, and CO₂-intensive private car use would decline rapidly.
The 4-day week in the UK could save over a fifth of CO₂ consumption
UK environmental scientist:in Laurie Mompelat, together with economist:in Mika Minio-Paluello, has broken down that if the entire UK switched to a 4-day week, the country’s CO₂ footprint could be reduced by 127 million tons per year. That’s a reduction of more than a fifth (21.3 percent overall)—so it’s a very big deal. It would thus have the same effect as taking all private cars (roughly 27 million cars) off the road.
The 4-day week as a tool for more climate protection could make up for much that has been missed or simply not achieved so far. Between 1990 and 2016, the UK managed to reduce emissions within its borders by 41 percent, but emissions resulting from the consumption of goods and services fell by only 15 percent. The latter CO₂ emissions are released abroad—through the production of clothing, electronics or processed food, for example—but are attributed to the British footprint. And consumption issues in particular would have to be addressed individually—which is considered difficult and slow.
Sociologist Juliet Schor: longer working hours cause more emissions
Reducing overall working hours, however, could play a central role in decarbonizing the country. One day less work per week also means one day less commuting, less energy consumption in many businesses—including offices—and less CO₂-intensive activities in private households due to the increase in time prosperity. So people also simply have more time for activities and activities that are slower and more time-intensive, but more environmentally friendly. Sociologist Juliet Schor summarizes the relationship succinctly: “Longer working hours mean more emissions. Fewer hours mean fewer emissions. This relationship is called the scale effect, concerning the size of the economy. So: more work means a bigger economy, means more production. And more production is associated with more emissions.” Schor is studying the 4-day-Work-Week in several countries.
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Even away from the workplace, a decrease in emissions is evident when we have more free time. German technology researcher Philipp Frey explains:
“In fact, at least in Europe and North America, using satellite measurements, a positive correlation can be observed between work days, where more is emitted, and weekend days, which tend to be days off, where less is emitted. Emissions on a work day are almost twice as high as on the weekend.”
When it comes to the climate, we can’t just talk about doing without, but about how we reorganize work
When we have more free time—and therefore less stress—we are more likely to decide to do things on foot, by public transport or by bike. We go shopping instead of shopping online, we cook ourselves instead of resorting to frozen and convenience foods. The positive consequences for our climate cannot be overstated, according to Philipp Frey of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Research:
“On the one hand, reductions in working hours can make a contribution to combating the climate catastrophe, and at the same time they are attractive for employees. On the other hand, they are attractive for employees. This gives us the opportunity to get out of a discourse about doing without—and into a debate about how we can increase our prosperity in terms of time. And from this perspective, it’s also a good sign that the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explicitly mentions working time reduction as a possible climate protection measure.”
Laurie Mompelat and Mika Minio-Paluello also cite the potential savings in CO₂ consumption through a general reduction in working hours—and also summarize other studies conducted internationally.
Effect 1: Electricity consumption decreases—less heating, fewer electronics
Studies show that a reduction in weekly working hours is generally accompanied by a significant reduction in energy consumption. This is because you save electricity that would otherwise be consumed at the workplace. This is because many devices that are typical in offices, for example, are then in use less. Lighting, heating, elevators, computers, canteens. Energy consumption also drops in the manufacturing sector.
In a large-scale experiment conducted between 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. state of Utah, 17,000 public employees were switched to a four-day week. There, it was shown that enormous energy savings were possible as a result of a work-free Friday. 6,000 tons a year could be saved in Utah by a 4-day week, an interim report on the experiment noted. 12,000 tons if commuting savings are added.
In 2020, Autonomy published a report that concluded: a 3-day weekend could reduce CO₂ emissions by 117,000 tons in the UK—per week.
Effect 2: Commuting decreases
A shorter working week also means less CO₂ caused by cars due to less commuting. In a study by the University of Reading, 2,000 employees and entrepreneurs were surveyed on commuting behavior. Two out of three companies that offered a 4-day week said their employees now drove less. If you extrapolate this to the population, the potential for savings is huge: after all, one in two employed people in the UK currently either drive themselves to work or are passengers. In rural areas, three out of four employees travel to work by car.
If everyone worked one day less per week, millions of cars would disappear from the road (Photo: Sorin Gheorghita/Unsplash).
Effect 3: Private consumption becomes more climate-friendly
A number of studies have examined the impact of working hours on individual household consumption and energy-intensive behavior. One U.S. study combined calculations of the CO₂ impact of goods with data from consumer spending and concluded that households with longer working hours have a significantly larger CO₂ footprint.
In the University of Reading study, two out of three respondents said they would spend the extra day off with family and friends. One in two would cook more at home, and one in four would volunteer in the local area. As a rule, these are activities that are not only fulfilling, but also climate-friendly and good for social coexistence.
Effect 4: Our leisure activities slow down
More free time creates space for more CO₂-poor activities: reading, playing, sports, time with the family. Watching a movie for a change, more walking, more continuing education—in short, deceleration, and self-actualization. Research into the impact of the reduction in working hours in France has demonstrated clear trends toward more domestic and lower-carbon activities. The introduction of the 35-hour work week in France has greatly changed the daily routines of employees.
Contrary to what many feared, people did not use their time off to consume more. Instead, they took care of themselves and lived more relaxed lives.
Effect 5: Shorter working hours are good for our health—even saving CO₂
With a three-day weekend—and more free time—we can spend more time outdoors, complete trips on foot, and be less stressed. Long work hours are associated with stress and an increased risk of burn-out, musculoskeletal complaints and mental illness. Treating all of this, costs money—and consumes resources: medications have long delivery routes, healthcare facilities need energy, and patients and family members as well as staff have to travel distances.
In summary, it is clear that we should think about and shape climate protection and our working hours in a networked way. Productivity has always increased in recent decades. And in the areas where no classic leaps in productivity are possible—health care, nursing, elementary education, education—employees already rarely work full time because the workload of these jobs is high. The path toward shorter working hours would therefore be clear. All that’s missing is the political will.
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Interview – Andrew Barnes: “The reality is the 4-day-week works everywhere!”

Four years ago, New Zealand’s trust company Perpetual Guardian introduces 4-day week to work less for the same pay. The attempt was so successful and the worldwide response so enormous that director Andrew Barnes and a colleague founded an international lobby organization for the 4-day week: 4 Day Week Global. In an interview with Kontrast, founder Andrew Barnes says the 4-day work week is an opportunity to change the world. 
The “4 Day Week Global” works with leading universities, such as Boston College, the University of Queensland or the University of Sydney, among others, and have already reached 5.5 billion people witThe non-profit platform has accompanied countless attempts to reduce working hours around the globe, including the largest attempt in the UK.h their campaign. 
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Kontrast: Why did you co-found the organisation 4 Day Week Global?
When we ran the 4-day week trial in our own company, Perpetual Guardian, in 2018, there was a huge global response that we didn’t expect. And not just media-wise, but literally thousands of companies got in touch and asked, “How did you do it? What did you learn from this?” And so a colleague and I decided to share our experience with others.
When we announced the final results and that we would keep the 4-day week after the pilot phase, there was another huge media response. At that point, we said to ourselves, this is bigger than us—we need to start an organization. Since then, we have been supporting companies to introduce measures like the four-day week, lobbying governments and doing research on working time reduction.
I believe that the impact on society and workers is so positive that we should work for it. You don’t get many chances to change the world.
Kontrast: Why do you think the reaction was so enormous?
I think, first of all, it was probably a day when there wasn’t much else going on and everyone was thinking, what the hell are those crazy New Zealanders doing? But basically I think two things happened. One, it hit the zeitgeist. I think 80% of working people around the world, regardless of their culture, also think that they would like to have more free time. And secondly, the pandemic came and changed a lot of things. I believe that people, both employers and employees, are now questioning the way they worked before the pandemic and are looking for different solutions. The pandemic proved that you can do things differently.
Another reason the Perpetual Guardian trial got so much attention worldwide was that we accompanied the trial with independent research. So it wasn’t just me sitting there saying, “Hey, that was good.” It was an independent academic study that said, “These are the results, and these are statistically important deviations from what we saw before. So I think ultimately the research is helping to prove the benefits of the 4-day week. The narratives from the individual companies are also helpful, but it’s the combination of these two factors that I think underscores that we’re on to something big. The idea is much more robust than you might think.
Kontrast: So it all started with the trial at Perpetual Guardian in 2018. Can you explain what has happened since then?
In November 2018, we made the reduction in working hours permanent at Perpetual Guardian. We have found that productivity has remained high. I think we are twice as productive per capita as one of our nearest competitors. We haven’t experienced the backsliding that people fear when you permanently reduce working hours. We have found that it is easier to attract and retain good staff.
Our sick days have been halved. And of course our costs are also lower because we no longer need so much space and our electricity bills are lower.
Internationally, we have seen four-day week grow globally from a few staff exchanging ideas over the internet to a global organization now running trials in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and Israel. We have influenced legislative changes in the US, Romania, Lithuania, Belgium, Russia, Japan, and India. We know that there are now governments in Scotland, Wales, Central and South America actively considering how to introduce a four-day week. And then there is the United Arab Emirates, which has actually done it.
More and more countries are launching pilot projects for the 4-day week. Most recently, Scotland has announced that it will pilot the four-day week—following models from Iceland and New Zealand. (Photo:Ross Sneddon on Unsplash)
Larger and larger companies are also coming out of the woodwork and starting to actively think about how they can attract and retain good employees. Because flexible working at home is no longer enough. Unilever, for example, has announced that their successful trial in New Zealand will now be rolled out in Australia. There are companies like Volkswagen that have been doing it for a while. Panasonic is doing it too. There are organizations like a bank in the UK that is doing it.
The 4-day week has evolved from a fringe idea in 2018 to one that has now entered the mainstream. It is not necessarily accepted by the mainstream, but it is clearly being discussed in the mainstream.
Kontrast: Would you say that there are mainly similarities or differences between the countries?
Well, I think in the 21st century, there are more similarities than differences between countries. As the world has by and large industrialized and developed, the problems you face in a country like Malaysia, Bangladesh, or India are in many ways no different from those you see in the US or the UK. Of course, that is not true for the whole economy. But I am pretty sure that the problems faced by many of the Bangalore-based tech companies are exactly the same as the problems faced by tech companies in Silicon Valley, for example.
I think that’s why the Four Day Week campaign has now reached about five and a half billion people worldwide.
We have talked about the four-day week in over a hundred countries. It is not something that is focused on the 27 European countries, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. In the course of our pilot project in South Africa, companies from four or five other African countries have also come forward and said they are interested in participating. This is not a Western world problem. It is much more than that.
Kontrast: When we talk about the process in the UK, the biggest process ever is now almost in its final stages. What do you expect next here?
We don’t have the results yet, of course, but in the midterm phase we sampled some of the companies that participated in the study, and we got the usual results, which is that the overwhelming number of companies say, “This is really fantastic, and we’re going to keep it.” They see higher productivity, higher employee engagement and lower employee stress.
I would be very surprised if the pattern of other attempts is not repeated. There are now probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of companies around the world that have introduced a four-day week. And there is a consistent message coming from them. And if you think about it, it’s not surprising. I mean, who would have thought that healthier, happier, more rested and more engaged employees would be more productive… It’s obvious, right?
Kontrast: Looking at the examples and trials, are there differences between the public and private companies?
At the end of the day, it is sometimes more difficult for a public company to introduce a four-day week because it has to get different stakeholders on board. In a private company, it can simply be decided by the owner of the company. But it can be done. There are now some local authorities that will try a four-day week, for example South Cambridge Council in the UK. They have come under quite a bit of fire in the right-wing media, and they will be scrutinized. It’s a very brave move. I think they will prove that it works, but it takes a very committed council or local authority or government to do it.
I think that at the country level, you are starting to see that the global labor shortage is going to lead to governments increasingly asking themselves how they can make their region or state more competitive. An example of this is the Premier of the Australian state of Victoria, who has announced that if he wins the election, he will introduce the four-day week throughout the state of Victoria. This is his way of attracting talent to Victoria at the expense of other Australian states. So it’s becoming a competitive issue.
The biggest risk a country or a company can take now is that they will not introduce the 4-day week. Their biggest risk is that their biggest competitor does it first.
The first one to move gets the headlines, the recognition, the choice of employees—everyone else then has to catch up.
Kontrast: Would you say that the four-day week can also be implemented in the service sector, e.g., in the care sector, in schools, in the health sector? There are reservations that productivity cannot be increased there as easily as in industry or in the digital sector…
There are examples here too. 1,600 school districts in the United States have already introduced the four-day week. But I think the best answer to this question is a trial in the United Kingdom. There, surgeons at St Thomas’ Hospitals put together a medical team that was one and a half times the size of a normal medical team. They had two operating theaters, which they ran in tandem. In this way, they managed to perform a week’s worth of operations in one day because they were able to optimally utilize the capacity.
We could even introduce the three-day week with this model—with the same number of operations. If you think about it, it means rethinking healthcare.
We are a bit in the situation where people say, well, you can’t possibly do it. If you don’t believe that you can do it, if you believe that what we are doing today is the pinnacle of human achievement, you will never be able to improve.
But if you think there must be a better way, then we should reconsider. There are pioneers who show that the 4-day week is possible. For example, a restaurant chain in Spain or a fish and chips place in England. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy, but once you get people thinking differently, then all the possibilities open up.
Kontrast: So there are many examples that show that working time reduction in the service sector is possible, but is there also data that proves that it actually works well?
That’s why we are doing the pilot programs all over the world. I can tell you company after company that says, “We did this, and we have an improvement.” But the problem with that is that there is no standard method of analysis. So when we put the studies together—and that’s why we have a global research program—the idea is that we are able to measure in a consistent way the impact on companies and their employees. That way we can get a global picture. When we have completed all these pilot programs, we will have very meaningful data that will show how it affects people—across cultures, countries, and industries.
Kontrast: You advocate the 100-80-100 model, which means 100 per cent of the wage, 80 per cent of the time, but for 100 per cent of the productivity. Isn’t there a danger here that the compression of working time will lead to more stress, pressure, and dissatisfaction with the job?
The research results show that people are less stressed. In Unilever’s recent report on their study in New Zealand, the data suggests that people are talking about compressed working hours. But global research shows that people are actually only really productive for two and a half to three hours a day. So out of an eight-hour day, five hours are “fluff”, five hours while you are busy but not necessarily productive.
Statistically, you are interrupted every 11 minutes and need 22 minutes to become fully productive again. So if you give someone one hour of intensive work without being interrupted, that is equivalent to three normal time-outs.
If I skip one day, my other days are much more productive, and actually I don’t even have to work every hour and every minute of the four days. I actually only have to spend 45 minutes of extra productivity on each of the four days to make up for the fifth day. So I work three hours and 45 minutes and I still have four hours to hang out at the water cooler or go on the internet. So it’s not what people think. That’s because people think that when I’m at work, I’m fully productive.
Kontrast: Have you already worked with companies or authorities in Austria?
Some companies in Austria have come forward. Some universities have also come forward that are interested in participating in the research.
Kontrast: So, what advice would you give to companies?
The real problem is often that companies think too much about it. A lot of companies say, “Well, maybe there were some difficulties with the implementation, but basically it wasn’t as hard as we thought.” That’s why one of our first pieces of advice to companies is that they shouldn’t think too much about it. They often try to analyze everything and come up with a solution for everything. But it doesn’t work that way. If you think about it too much, you come up with all these reasons why it won’t work. The reality is that it does work. It’s much easier now because you have all the evidence that’s there. You just have to try it out. And then staff have to find the things that are preventing them from being productive. It varies from staff member to staff member, from department to department.
And secondly, read the material, because there is so much of it now that it is much easier to take the step than it was four years ago. And what’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work, at least the staff will love you for it. So you will get something out of it, even if the only benefit is that you figure out how to measure productivity.
Kontrast: And what would you advise the Austrian government?
Why are they different? I mean, governments have the same problem. We all face the question of how to deal with mental health problems in the workplace. One in four is affected by it. How can we reduce our carbon footprint?
A study carried out in the UK says that switching to a four-day week in the UK would result in an emissions’ reduction equivalent to taking all UK car traffic off the road.
If people only work four days a week, you have fewer cars on the road. Then there are more opportunities for free traffic, less congestion, and that in turn leads to a higher GDP. So there is a virtuous circle here that governments need to keep an eye on.
And then we all struggle with how to finance our health care system. Because people are living longer, but they are getting sicker over a longer period of time. If you are healthier and happier, don’t eat junk food, have more time to exercise and spend more time with your family, what do you think happens? The effects on health improve. You have more time to learn. This means you can help your employees get used to issues like artificial intelligence and the transformation of work. There are a lot of fantastic things that a government, if it is willing to understand this, can actually do.
And that is what I would say to the Austrian government: look at the macroeconomic benefits, think outside the box. So it’s not just about what happens at the factory gate, but what the impact is on the whole society. 
This work is licensed under the Creative Common License. It can be republished for free, either translated or in the original language. In both cases, please cite / Lena Krainz as the original source/author and set a link to this article on Scoop.me. https://scoop.me/interview-andrew-barnes-4-day-week/
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