The now-famed “four-day workweek” is an arrangement where businesses allow employees to reduce their weekly work schedule by an entire day. In 2023, more businesses are offering a four-day week as an option than ever before.
What’s more, since the pandemic, a number of four-day work week trials have taken place across the globe, some involving hundreds of companies and thousands of workers. The results has been overwhelmingly positive.
So, which countries are taking the leap to the four-day week, and where’s the easiest place in the world to get a job that won’t make you work Fridays? Read on to find out.
Not all four-day workweek arrangements are the same. Some actually involve employees working fewer hours in total over the course of any given week. Others require them to work the same number of hours, but over four days.
Many four-day workweek trials have deployed the “100-80-100” method.
This involves paying workers 100% of their existing pay, for 80% of their time, in exchange for 100% productivity/output.
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5 Countries with a 4-Day Workweek
We’ll cut to the chase – although four-day workweeks have been creating quite a buzz over the last few years, there are very few countries that have actually implemented the concept nationwide or passed a law that grants it as a universal freedom for all workers.
That being said, there are some countries where it’s more common than others, and some nations where existing laws are helping speed up the transition toward a four-day week.
Belgium became the first European country to legislate a four-day workweek back in 2022. Legally, Belgians can now complete the hours that would make up their standard, five-day workweek in four days.
“The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time,” Belgium prime minister Alex de Croo said in November of last year when the law was passed.
2. United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates, all government employees can now work a four-day workweek if they choose to. This has been the case since July 1, 2023.
While this doesn’t cover every single worker in the UAE, nearly 90% of the UAE’s workforce is employed by the government – so the vast majority of people can actually work a four-day week.
Cold little Iceland – a country with just over 350,000 people living in it – actually has more workers working a four-day workweek than almost anywhere else in the world.
After running one of the world’s largest and longest trials into the four-day workweek between 2015 and 2019, it seems to have caught on. According to a Forbes article published last year, almost 90% of Icelandic workers have reduced working hours every week.
Lithuania doesn’t have a blanket law enforcing a four-day workweek, but it enacted legislation in 2021 that now means parents with young children can just work 32 hours a week (the average workweek in the country is 40 hours long).
This effectively means that parents in Lithuania are working a four-day week’s worth of hours, even if they end up spreading the work across five days.
Although France doesn’t legally enforce a four-day workweek, it’s increasingly common for businesses in the country to offer a four-day workweek.
This is in part due to the fact that France famously enshrined a 35-hour workweek into law way back in 2000, and it is extremely unlikely to ever be overturned. France’s Labor Ministry says that 10,000 workers in France already work a four-day week.
This law makes transitioning to a four-day workweek quite easy – working for four 8-hour days totals 32 hours of work per week, which is only slightly less than the number of hours most workers do.
9 Countries That are Trialing (Or Have Trialed) 4-Day Workweeks
Multiple four-day workweek trials have taken place across the world, and on the whole, they’ve been very successful.
1. The United Kingdom (complete)
One of the largest, recent four-day workweek trials took place in the UK and involved 61 companies and more than 2,900 workers.
Remarkably, 92% of the companies that participated continued with the four-day week (92%) after the study was completed. 18 confirmed shortly after the study that this had become a permanent change to their company policy.
2 & 3. US/Ireland (complete)
In 2022, 900 workers across 33 companies based in the US and Ireland took part in a four-day workweek trial over a six-month period.
According to CNBC, participants rated the experience a 9.1 out of 10, while 97% said they wanted to keep the four-day workweek.
4. Spain (complete)
The Spanish city of Valencia was the home of another recent trial which took place between April 10 and May 7 of this year. The city’s council scheduled four local holidays on four consecutive Mondays, giving 360,000 participating workers an extra day off per week.
The study found that the arrangement was better for Spanish workers’ health and benefitted their children too. There were some other interesting, positive results, such as reduced fuel emissions due to less commuting.
5. South Africa/Botswana (complete)
South Africa kicked off its own trial of the four-day workweek in March 1, 2023, involving 28 businesses based in the country and one from neighboring Botswana.
After the trial, most companies signaled that they wanted to continue on with the new working arrangements, with only three companies halting it outright.
BusinessTech reports that the experiment “showed a 40% decrease in stress, a 75% decline in burnout, fewer sick days, and an improved work-life balance.”
6. Japan (complete)
Despite its international reputation for having some of the most grueling workweeks on the planet, Japan is actually another country where a four-day working week has been trialed.
Microsoft Japan ran an experiment with its workforce back in 2019 to see if a four-day workweek would benefit them and the business.
The results were nothing short of incredible – participants in the trial were around 40% more productive after their hours were compressed, with much better results than the same month a year prior. However, the trend has yet to catch on nationwide.
7. Canada (complete)
In 2022, Canada ran a four-day workweek trial involving 41 companies, most of which had 11-25 employees on their payroll.
In this study, it was up to the companies to decide how to reduce their hours – the only task was to ensure it didn’t negatively impact output.
Out of those 41 companies, 35 reported that they were either planning to keep the change or leaning towards doing so.
8. Portugal (ongoing)
Portugal is one of the most recent nations to give a selection of their workforce the all-clear for a trial to take place. In June, a 6-month trial started involving 39 corporate businesses.
Almost three-quarters of Portuguese workers work more than 40 hours a week, so it’ll be fascinating to see how it affects productivity.
9. Brazil (ongoing)
Brazil’s four-day workweek trial is only just getting into full swing, having started on September 4, 2023. 20 companies are involved in the trial, and all of them employ more than 400 workers.
Hundreds of Brazilian businesses applied to participate in the study, but only a select few were chosen. It is the first four-day workweek trial to take place in Latin America.
Countries With the Shortest Workweeks
Along with countries that have actually instated a four-day week, or have a huge amount of companies that now offer it, there are other countries that have been gradually chipping away at the total amount of hours their workforce is required to work.
For example, Denmark has one of the shortest workweeks in the world. In the Scandinavian country, workers are only required to work a minimum of 33 hours a week. This would be the equivalent of just over 8 hours a day, for four days, or a half day on Friday.
However, in the nearby Netherlands, that’s even shorter. According to 4dayweek.io, the average workweek in the Netherlands is just 29 hours long. This is the shortest working week in Europe.
No one can beat island nation Vanuatu, which has an average workweek of just 24.7 hours – the amount of time many workers in the US will have already worked by mid-morning on Wednesdays.
Should My Company Offer a 4-Day Workweek?
Most of the evidence from the four-day week trials referenced above is remarkable. If the trials are to be believed, it seems workers are able to claw an extra day back to relax and recharge without harming a company's productivity.
However, it completely depends on how your business currently operates. The first thing you have to consider is the financial aspect. Is your business in a stable enough stage of its growth to implement a trial, even if it is ineffective and doesn't work out?
In the long run, however, a four-day workweek might help you cut down on office expenses such as electricity and other overheads.
Secondly, some businesses won’t be able to transition to a four-day week easily, if at all – a daily newspaper, for example, would always need some staff working every day of the week. Providing the arrangement to a workforce like this would be more complicated than simply shutting the office down on Fridays, for instance.
If you do end up implementing a four-day week for your staff, remember to consult them throughout the process and gather feedback – it might work for some departments and teams, but not others – and of course, there's a chance it won't work for anyone at your company.
Other flexible working options
If you don’t think a four-day week is right for your business, there are other options. Most companies offer some remote roles, while others allow their staff to come into the office some days, and stay at home on others.
The concept of “Summer Fridays” – letting staff work a half day on Fridays during the summer months if they make up the hours in the week prior – is offered by the likes of Asos, Kellog’s, PwC, and Tech.co.
The bottom line is this: the way most companies approach their employees’ working patterns and arrangements has changed significantly since the pandemic.
Attracting the top talent in 2023 is much harder if you can’t provide some level of flexibility for your staff members – as is keeping them happy while they’re with your company.