How would you feel about having the option to spread your working hours over four days and gain three days of week-end instead of two? This may soon be an option for employees in Romania. On March 3rd, several senators and deputies from PNL and USR proposed introducing the option of a 4-day work week, with a 40 hours per week norm.
The proposal is a step in the direction of bringing more flexibility to the labor market, tailored to major future trends, such as the gig-economy, working in a hybrid format, and the great-resignation, all of which indicate dissatisfaction with the current working model, State Senator for the Romanian Parliament Stefan Palarie tells us.
Nevertheless, the new arrangement would not be without risks, ranging from increasing the potential of burnout with more than 8 working hours per day to reducing access for citizens to public sector services. By keeping the 40 hours work week norm, it also differs from similar models introduced elsewhere in Europe.
To explore the format, opportunities, and risks of the 4-day work week law, The Recursive further discussed with Stefan Palarie, one of the proposal’s initiators, as well as with the tech community in Romania.
What does the bill propose and whom is it for?
The bill amends the current legislation, which stipulates that the normal working hours are 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The initiators propose a distribution of 10 hours a day for four days, with three days off.
It looks in the direction of modernizing labor relations in Romania, in alignment with the global economy. The key benefits could be narrowed down to increased flexibility for employees, according to their preferences, and higher expected productivity for employers.
“At USR, we aim to modernize labor relations in Romania. The business community has been waiting for this for a long time. It is urgent that we align with the global economy. This law is another step to provide a flexible scheme to those companies that through their organizational culture aim to increase productivity by leaving several days off for employees,” Stefan Palarie tells The Recursive.
For instance, the arrangement could be preferred by younger people, as well as parents who could use the extra time with their families. When asked what industries and departments he expects to favor this arrangement, Stefan further adds:
“I think we will see creative industries and IT departments taking into account this switch, and generally areas that have less direct contact with customers. In certain fields, a longer weekend can help enhance concentration or imagination. It would also work for jobs with more project-based tasks, or where there is an uneven daily pace and a static work schedule matters less.”
That said, he notes that the arrangement cannot be seen as a recipe for success, which can bring better results in any field. Instead, it is a bet that certain companies can make in becoming more competitive and having more motivated employees.
If adopted, the new arrangement is also expected to bring changes at macroeconomic level. Companies may have to hire more employees to compensate for the day off. Consumption in certain areas such as tourism and HoReCa could increase as a consequence of a prolonged week-end.
The legislative proposal will be initially debated in the Senate, while the Chamber of Deputies is the decision-making forum.
What are the potential risks?
The tech community has its concerns over how the 4-day, 40-hour work week would play out. For some professionals, the 10-hour day creates anxiety in anticipation of the higher workload and decrease in motivation and efficiency. And even if the scheme is optional for companies, what if certain departments transition entire teams to the schedule?
“I would not agree to work on a mandatory 4-day, 40-hour work week schedule. I think it could work by allowing flexible scheduling of hours within each work week, up to an absolute requirement of 40. This way, the working schedule doesn’t constrain, rather it enables. I’m afraid having to work every day for 10 hours would not increase my efficiency. I would probably procrastinate more, because it would disengage me from the rhythm of my team and l would lose my personal motivation for that job,” Iulian Seciu, RPA Developer, shares with The Recursive.
On top of that, for the transition to work out, it would require additional efforts on the communication and planning side, especially if other stakeholders keep the 5-day work week.
Stefan Palarie mentions additional risks for the public sector:
“I see a risk if this type of employment relationship would be used excessively by public institutions, where there is a need for permanence in the relationship with the citizens.
Another potential danger is that this model will be abused by public institutions, which in addition to often unduly delaying the digitization of services and the provision of a non-stop work schedule via the Internet, but have the tendency sometimes to shorten the working hours of the public by making it inaccessible to most citizens.”
Ideally, the way the model is proposed, it would be a flexible one, established by mutual agreement between the employee and the employer. Both parties may revert to the previous system if such adverse effects occur, Stefan adds.
“In the future, we could also talk about an additional, optional flexibility. In other countries, there is a working model for 80% of the working hours standard, for those who can earn less by achieving a part-time norm. This is usually required by parents who need more time to be with their children,” he says.
How does the 4-day work week look in other European countries?
Around Europe, conversations about the 4-day work week have turned into successful experiments and were even adopted at a national level in some countries.
Iceland is a frontrunner in the field, having conducted a pilot with 2,500 people for a 35 to 36-hour work week without any salary reductions. After the test was deemed a success by researchers, companies such as IT services company Typetec have started transitioning all employees to the 4-day work week model.
Belgium, the latest country to join the trend, has introduced an optional four-day, 40-hour work week, similar to the proposal in Romania. Belgian prime minister Alexander de Crooexplained that the agreement aims to bring more flexibility to the rigid labor market in the country, create a more dynamic economy, and allow parents to achieve a better balance between family lives and careers.
Here as well, the perspective for this arrangement is not appealing to everyone, with full-time employees worrying about having to work extended hours, and shift workers not having such flexibility.
Starting June, the UK will also organize a six-month pilot program for a 4-day work week, with up to 9.5 hours a day. The pilot is run by non-profit advocacy groups 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and the UK think tank Autonomy, together with researchers at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and Boston College.
The pilot will be monitoring the impact on productivity, the well-being of their workers, as well as gender equality, and the environment.