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Four-day working week? Eight out of ten SMEs not behind the idea

05 October 2022 Annelies Bries Employers

Last week, parliament gave the go-ahead for the labour deal. One of the most notable measures is the four-day working week: full-time workers are given the option of spreading working time over four days instead of the usual five. This offers full-time employees with an additional day off. Note: as an employer, you are not obliged to introduce the four-day working week.

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Full-time working week in four days

Performing a full-time job in four longer days a week instead of five shorter ones. The labour deal will allow employees to request this from their employer, provided the option is provided in the company. If the employer agrees to the employee’s request, a written agreement will be concluded.

Introducing a four-day working week obviously means that the normal working hours of up to eight hours a day cannot be sustained. The employee will have to perform more hours in one working day to achieve full-time employment in four days. This deviation must be included either in the labour regulations or in a collective agreement:

1. Weekly working hours ≤ 38 hours

If the employee has full-time employment of up to 38 hours a week, the daily working hours can be increased from eight to a maximum of 9.5 hours through the labour regulations.

2. Weekly working hours > 38 hours (maximum 40 hours)

If weekly working hours exceed 38, daily working hours can only be increased by means of a collective agreement. For instance, a 40-hour working week can be performed at the rate of four 10-hour days after a collective agreement has been concluded.

Moreover, an employee who receives permission from the employer to perform a four-day working week retains the right to all statutory holidays. Voluntary overtime is prohibited in this system on days not worked. The aim of this scheme is to achieve a better work-life balance, thereby also preventing burnout.

Only 10% of employers back four-day work week

Is a four-day working week even feasible in Belgian companies – particularly in small and medium-sized ones? In collaboration with ETION and VKW Limburg, we launched a survey among more than 500 SMEs:

  • 84% say a four-day work week is not feasible
  • 8% of SMEs believe it is
  • 10% are actually considering introducing a full-time four-day working week
  • 14% of SMEs admit to not yet knowing whether a shortened full-time working week is for them

The results of our survey reveal that four-day working weeks are not yet on the horizon in many companies. The threshold for introducing the four-day working weeks is presumably raised by factors such as SMEs still being relatively unfamiliar with the practicalities, as well as a fear of chaotic work planning and of business continuity being compromised.

Advantages of a four-day working week

Although a four-day working week is not yet feasible for everyone, we expect more and more companies to eventually opt for a policy such as this. This is because it entails several advantages:

  • Companies open to adopting the four-day working week will more easily be able to recruit employees attracted to the idea:
  • A shorter working week helps reduce the carbon footprint, as the employee attends the office less often and/or has to travel less frequently;
  • Absenteeism decreases for employees whose work-life balance has improved as a result.
  • A four-day work week can boost employee productivity and satisfaction.

Is your organisation considering introducing the four-day week? We advise you to make proper arrangements with your employees, to make sure this measure hits its mark.

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Written by Annelies Bries

Legal advisor at Acerta

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