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By Jessica Wang

February 16, 2022

Belgians will be given the right to work a four-day week without sacrificing a full-time salary as part of a major overhaul to the European country’s labour laws.

The compressed 38-hour working week means that employees will work longer hours each day in order to make up the extra day off.

Workers in both the private and public sector will be able to request to transition to the four-day work structure, and if rejected, bosses will need to justify their refusal in writing.

The new rule has been offered in a package which also includes the ‘right to disconnect’ – meaning workers won’t have to answer calls or emails outside of work hours. Similar rules have also become law in France, Ireland, Germany and Italy.

Working rights in several European countries have been reassessed in light of the changing nature of work post-Covid.

Announcing the changes, Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo said he hoped the latest reforms would increase the country’s employment rate.

With just 71.4 per cent of people aged 20 to 64 in a job, the figures have Belgium trailing behind European neighbours like the Netherlands and Germany.

“If you compare our country with others, you’ll often see we’re far less dynamic,” he said. “After two difficult years, the labour market has evolved. With this agreement, we are setting the benchmarks for a good economy.”

Australian company implementing four-day working week

In Australia, behavioural science consultancy group Inventium made the four-day working week a permanent feature after implementing a trial in July of 2020.

Unlike the structure proposed by Belgium’s government, Inventium employees still work their normal eight-hour work day and don’t need to ‘make up’ the day off during the week. However, they are still expected to achieve the result they would in a normal five-day working week.

Speaking to Andrew Bucklow on the I’ve Got News For You podcast, the company’s founder Dr Amantha Imber said the new working structure significantly increased Inventium’s productivity.

“We found after our initial six month trial of the four day week, we actually increased productivity by 26 per cent,” she said.

Employee engagement also increased, with the company also reaching their financial targets two months ahead of schedule too.

“At the end of our six month trial we’re up at the top 1 per cent for our industry in terms of engagement scores,” said Dr Imber.

“We also found that stress levels reduced which was pretty amazing because our trial was during one of the awful lockdowns that Melbourne had in the back half of 2020.”

Post-Covid trend for employers

In response to working-from-home mandates during Covid and increased accessibility posed by email and technology, several countries have enacted tougher labour laws to protect the work-life-balance of employees and boost flexibility.

A trial of the four-day working week has been implemented in Spain and Scotland where the government has agreed to subsidise businesses who allow employees to work the reduced hours.

Since undertaking a trial from 2015 to 2019, nearly 90 per cent of Iceland’s working population operate under some kind of reduced work hour structure. Research that was backed by multiple bodies showed that the wellbeing of workers “dramatically increased,” with the findings showing a reduction in perceived stress and burnout, coupled with increased work-life-balance. Meanwhile, metrics like revenue and productivity were unaffected.