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Portugal’s Government-backed 4 day week trial results show drops in anxiety and fatigue, and improved work-life balance

Lisbon

Workers also favoured the new schedule, with 85% of them saying they’d require more than a 20% pay increase to return to five days.

The study includes 41 Portuguese companies that shortened the working week, 21 of which coordinated the start of a six-month trial in June. The trial was run in partnership with international non-profit, 4 Day Week Global, with the research jointly conducted by Henley Business School and Birkbeck, University of London. More than 1,000 workers in these companies reduced their work time by 13.7%.

In 58.5% of companies, workers had one day off per week, while 41.5% of companies opted for a nine-day fortnight. After four months, the organisations rated the overall trial an average of 7.7/10.

As for the workers’ experience, within three months, the frequency of negative mental health symptoms decreased significantly, with anxiety falling by 21%, fatigue dropping by 23%, and insomnia or sleep problems reducing by 19%.

The percentage of workers who struggled with balancing work and family responsibilities fell from 46% to a remarkable 8%, while almost two thirds (65%) of workers spent more time with their families after the reduction in working hours.

Research coordinator Dr. Rita Fontinha, Associate Professor of Strategic Human Resources at Henley Business School said: "Based on these results, the 4 day week could be seen as a potential solution for many of the problems affecting companies today, from recruitment and retention problems, high levels of stress and burnout, gender inequality, absenteeism, and difficulties in managing hybrid working."

Research coordinator Dr. Pedro Gomes, Professor in Economics at Birkbeck, University of London said: “This pilot has shown us that the 4 day week, however radical it might look for some, is a legitimate management practice with many benefits for firms and workers. We hope our work documenting how companies in Portugal designed a test that positively impacted workers can encourage and help other companies considering a 4 day week."

CEO of 4 Day Week Global, Dr Dale Whelehan said: “I commend the Portuguese government for their leadership in this area and encourage other administrations to take note. While there were significant improvements in workers’ well-being, it’s interesting to note that there wasn’t as significant a reduction in hours as we have seen elsewhere. This may be because we only saw three in four companies make organisational changes to achieve the same level of output in less time. Nevertheless, this is an important first step and we know the longer a company operates a 4 day week, the more their hours reduce.”

The Portuguese Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Ana Mendes Godinho, said: “The results of the pilot project show that we are on the right track. I'm proud that Portugal is already making great progress in creating new ways of organising work, with the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda, which promotes work as a factor in valuing people, essential for attracting and retaining talent in our country.”

Click here to access the full report.

Dr Rita Fontinha

Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy
Published 15 December 2023
Topics:
Henley news Flexible working

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