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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

What to Make of Spain's Four-Day Work Week Trial

The stress and chaos of the modern work-life balance has always been overwhelming, but with the added layer of the pandemic, it has never been more apparent that a real change might be needed. In response to this necessity, the Spanish government has decided to restructure the nationwide work week into a four-day system. The main objective for the proposal will be to not only make workers happier and more productive, but it may also reap economic benefits. The plan, proposed earlier in 2021, was finalized in late March and put into action around September of this year. Though it has been a growing trend among private companies across the world, Spain will be the first nation to apply this new schedule at a national level. 

Though details of the proposal will be finalized soon, the trial is expected to last three years. In order for Spain to financially support companies who will be dropping their workers’ hours a week from 40 to 32 while maintaining their salaries, the European Union will be supplying roughly 50 million euros. Though many Spanish officials and citizens are eager for this new transition, some are arguing that the economic despair due to the pandemic makes this a questionable time to implement change. Other economists are challenging this by saying the desperate economy needs a change now more than ever, and they have research suggesting a four-day work week may create more jobs, increase salaries, and increase the GDP.

Discussion of a four-day work has been circulating in Spain for the past several years, like in many other left-leaning countries in Europe where average work hours and average weeks worked per year are lower than in the U.S. However, Spain will be the first to implement a four-day work week at a national level. Economics aside, the five-day workweek stretches working parents very thin, especially mothers who are often expected to be the primary caregivers of their children despite their professional demands. This can strain the family unit, damaging both parents and children. 

The four-day work week may create consequences or benefits for working mothers. Researchers aren’t quite sure yet. The flexibility and time of a four-day work week may help parents to more equally divide the parenting roles, or it may force women to take on even more caregiving and housekeeping responsibilities, as has happened in most countries with the pandemic. Working moms have been forced to bear the brunt of family needs while still committing to their careers, if they are even still employed. Based on surveys, 60% of women across the world have reported an increase in unpaid domestic work because of the pandemic, and more women than men have lost jobs during the pandemic, especially in the U.S., where numbers of employed women aren’t expected to return to pre-pandemic numbers until 2024. Will a four-day work week be able to remedy this gap? Only time will tell, and hopefully Spain’s trial will be able to conclude if this transition will help parents divide caregiving responsibilities effectively. Or if mothers will continue to be strained in multiple directions.

On top of the social and economic needs for a work life transition, reducing the work week will likely reduce carbon emissions among manufacturers, a shift that is paramount to saving the planet. While this certainly isn’t enough to solve climate change, it may serve as a helpful addition to climate change policies around the world. 

What does this new work week mean for the U.S.? The concept of a four-day work-week is still fairly controversial in the U.S., with its only serious advocate being politician and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. He stands mostly opposed, but the economic desperation this pandemic brought upon many Americans may change that. So while it’s safe to say the U.S. will likely not see a nation-wide change this drastic for quite some time, there are many companies based in the U.S. that have undergone or are undergoing similar shifts. American companies including the restaurant chain Shake Shack and the software company Elephant Ventures have adjusted to four-day work weeks and have seen satisfaction among their employees. Both companies have implemented four 10-hour work days for each week, and although the long days can be exhausting, employees have reported the three-day weekends giving them the rest they need. 

Where will this go? Keeping up with how this trial goes in Spain will allow other companies or countries to follow suit, or maybe dismiss the concept entirely. What can be concluded is that in a majority of industrialized economies, people are in need of a work-life shift in order to prioritize their rest, wellbeing, and work-life balance. Whether this takes the shape in four-day workweeks or reduced hours per week, it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.