4-Day-Week with a Full Salary?

by Hana Hadzic in — September 2021
'Can you imagine a 4-day-week with a full salary at your company?' That was the question we posed to 236 company representatives, to see if they could imagine following Iceland’s lead at Austrian companies. They received gripping answers to this hot topic.

Icelandic Tale or Forward-Looking Model for Other Countries

Work just four days a week but earn a full-time salary: the dream of many employees became reality for 2,500 people in Iceland in the scope of the largest test worldwide yet. For the study, they switched for five years from 40 hours over 5 days to 35 hours over 4 days without a reduction in salary – and were more productive, more satisfied, and less often sick than before. Would that be possible in Austria?

83% of company representatives could imagine a four-day model with reduced working hours at their companies.


Pro: Arguments in Favour of the Four-Day Model

  1. The most frequent argument for reducing working hours: an improved work-life-balance as a boost to productivity. More time for exercise and social activities has a positive effect on productivity. According data from the OECD, Austria places only 24 of 38 member states when it comes to work-life balance. Furthermore, several studies say that we are only productive for a fraction of the 8 hours a day at work.
  2. The second most popular argument is that this time model is a magnet for highly skilled workers. The 4-day week is not common on the labour market yet and could be a decisive argument for qualified candidates. Furthermore, the increased amount of leisure time can improve employee retention. According to a recent survey in Austria, 85% of young people in Austria desire flexible working hours.
  3. Health advantages: More time for rest and recuperation reduces stress levels, blood pressure, burnout cases, back problems, and days missing from work.

What respondents feel is in favour of the 4-day week:

  • “Friday was the obligatory day for me to do all the work my boss left over. My job was done on Thursday. If everyone took responsibility for their own work, we could all be done on Thursday.”
  • “Commuters have less total worktime; alternatives with remote work options could help, too.”
  • “It is contemporary.”
  • “More efficient performance.”
  • “It means more time for everyone – especially women – to perform care work.”

Contra: Arguments and Concerns

17% of respondents were not convinced by the model. Roughly half were concerned about excessive additional costs. 30% can’t imagine this time model working in their industry. Concerns mostly involved opening hours, organisations with shifts, or an imbalance between employees.

What respondents feel speaks against the 4-day week:

  • “Would result in an imbalance between workers in the office and those on the production line.”
  • “A lot of jobs require someone to be present or on-call (sales, hotline, support). You have to cover the opening hours; we can’t close our shop on Fridays.”
  • “Our services have to be provided when customers are here. A 4-day week means more time and effort for shift planning, etc.”
  • “Alternatively: 38.5 hours in four days.”

The reduction in working hours means a salary increase of several percent. Companies that can afford this are looking for especially well qualified workers.

Courageous CEOs, Optimized Processes, Trust: What Is Necessary for a 4-Day Model to Work?

Ranked by the number of mentions:

  1. Better internal communication
  2. Clear responsibilities
  3. Shortened meetings (and meetings that could have been emails actually become emails).
  4. Dropping unimportant tasks
  5. A state subsidy of the reduced working hours

Quotes from respondents on how a 4-day week can succeed:

  • “Courageous CEOs (mentioned frequently), clear & transparent goals, management exemplifying the values and culture.”
  • “A good presence concept”
  • “Increased trust in employees”
  • “Clear rules for the expectations of all stakeholders”
  • “Discussions about best practices, legal frameworks (e.g. regulations for overtime, collective agreements for changing time models)”
  • “Acceptance on the part of customers”

Adieu, Presence Culture? The Question of Trust-Based Working Hours

Do we have to change our approach to work?

66% believe that our approach to work has to move from monitoring presence to monitoring results.

66% yes, 5% no, 26% we already live by trust-based working hours and monitoring results instead of presence, 3% other

The question of trust keeps arising. Austria is behind the international curve when it comes to monitoring results. “Trust based working hours” is a foreign concept to Austrian labour law, though long established in Germany. The latest changes to the laws regarding remote work do not reflect the growing culture of trust, either. Nearly one third of respondents indicated that they already enjoy a culture of results monitoring instead of presence. 66% are of the opinion that there is room for improvement.

Back in 2008 Talentor’s parent company, epunkt, launched flexible work time models with the option of a 4-day week or a 10-month year, home office, and trust-based working hours, and it works well.

Less Work, More Output: Here Are Some Best Practices

  • eMagnetix, an online marketing agency in Upper Austria, reduced the work week to 30 hours in 2018 while maintain the same salary level. The inducement was too few job applications. Since introducing the 30-hour workweek, the number and quality of applicants has greatly improved and both employees and clients are satisfied. 86% of employees feel healthier than before and 63% indicate that their work stress has been reduced, as reported by the managing director Klaus Hochreiter in an interview with SN.
  • Brüger Unterweger, a producer of natural cosmetics in Tyrol, has also moved to a 4-day week, with Fridays free and 36 hours spread over Monday through Thursday. CEO Michael Unterweger reported in an interview that it just took a few changes in the employment contracts.
  • Green energy provider KWG offers more than 20 different models for working time. For the pilot project “4-day week” there are options to spread 38.5 hours over four days or reduce hours. When an employee reduces hours, 50% of the cost is covered by the employer and 50% by the employee. Employees who work 5 hours fewer get 6.5% salary. According to the manager director, Peter Zehetner, this is not possible for jobs that require presence along with productivity.

Good Concepts for Presence, Time Management, and Technology Help

The most important thing for businesses is that their employees are deployed in an efficient way. In addition to presence concepts, some companies also use job sharing, work scheduling via app, and working hours accounts that allow employees to manage their hours in a flexible way.