Just over a century ago – until 1919 – it was commonplace for many Dutch citizens to work between twelve to sixteen hours a day six days a week. Fast-forward to today and questions are being raised in relation to the 40-hour working week and the prospect of a new standard, i.e. a four-day working week of 32 hours in exchange for a full-time salary, is being discussed worldwide.

José Luis Gallegos, a PhD candidate at the Rotterdam School of Management, who is carrying out research into the evolution of the working week, expects that this would have a positive impact at the university. “Studies show that people are better rested, more creative, more satisfied and are less prone to experience burnout when they work a four-day week”, he says. “This makes employees more productive and more involved in their work, which leads to less absenteeism and fewer people leaving the company.” This has led to a number of large companies, such as Unilever in New Zealand and Australia, switching to a four-day working week following several trials.

Trials

Gallegos would like to set up a trial at the university. To that end, he collaborated with Bachelor’s students to carry out a survey among members of staff, among other things to find out whether such an initiative would be supported. This showed that most members of staff – both academic and non-academic staff – would be keen to participate in a pilot: on a scale of one to ten, members of staff on average scored an 8.12 in terms of their willingness to participate. In addition, almost half of staff members indicated their desire to work fewer hours. Currently, the university employs 1875 full-time employees and 1537 part-time employees.

Due to the low number of participants (183 participants), the results of the survey do not fully represent the views of all employees at the university. According to Gallegos, the objective of the survey was to gain insights for a larger follow-up study.

He believes that the four-day work week can reduce the wage gap between men and women in the Netherlands. “Nearly 60 per cent of women in the Netherlands work part time. If we consider people who currently work four days a week as full-time employees, the employees – and therefore more women – would receive a better salary and be more likely to receive a promotion, for example.”

Productivity

The PhD candidate believes that employees need not give up any of their salary were they to work four days a week, given that there would be no loss in terms of productivity. This would not only be due to improved mental health, but as a result of technological developments. “New technology, such as ChatGPT, allows certain processes to be automated”, he says. “It is vital that we see technology as a means to create a better, calmer life. For example, ChatGPT should not lead to scientists writing even more scientific articles.”

Professor of Applied Economics Jan van Ours has his doubts about a four-day working week at the university. “I don’t believe that productivity will increase that much”, he says. “It also very much depends on the job. If you dig ditches for a living, you’ll be able to dig faster. But a call centre worker, for example, will not be able to speak to more people in a day. And if an academic has to cram a forty-hour course into thirty-two hours, they could teach the course more rapidly, but rushing through it won’t be great for the students.”

The latter is also a key consideration for the Executive Board. “A shorter working week could have adverse consequences for our students”, a spokesperson said. “That could range from fewer opportunities to ask questions, get help, longer response times or access to key services.”

The spokesperson stated that the board had ‘never yet actively’ discussed the four-day working week. According to the spokesperson, it is therefore impossible to make any statements regarding whether the four-day work week will ever be implemented at the university. However, the board does monitor research results on the issue and recognises the positive aspects of the four-day working week, such as a better work-life balance and increased efficiency in the workplace.

Expense

Strooisel vierdaagse werkweek_minder werken_ontspanning_burnout-Josine Henneken
Image credit: Josine Henneken

Van Ours also thinks that the four-day working week for which everyone receives a full-time salary is too great an expense for the university. Quezada believes that this can be resolved by saving on other costs. “If everyone works from Monday to Thursday, the buildings could be closed from Friday, saving on energy costs, for example.”

However, Quezada believes that in order to be sure that the idea actually works, a trial needs to take place at the university. “I would like to put together a group of employees and work with them to set up a suitable pilot”, he says. When that pilot is to be held is as yet unknown. “After that I hope to be able to go to the board with a lot of support to make it happen.”

 

Illustratie werkdruk CAO stress – Migle Alonderyte

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