Germany tries out 4-day work week to tackle labor crunch

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Germany has recently launched a six-month-long four-day workweek trial which will see employees at 45 companies across the country working one less day per week for the same pay, Anadolu reports. 

The initiative is led by Berlin-based human resource consultancy Intraprenor, together with the collaboration of the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global (4DWG).

Jan Buhren of Intraprenor told Anadolu that the German economic crisis is seeing changes in the labor market, which made it necessary to trail the four-day work week experiment.

"We are seeing a change in the labor market, change in the demands of labor, we are seeing a kind of economic crisis everywhere but also especially in Germany within Europe and that calls for new ways of thinking work," said Buhren.

Over the last year, Germany has seen a spate of public sector labor strikes from around the country demanding higher wages and better working conditions.

Advocates of the shorter work week hope that working four days a week will make workers happier and more productive at a time when Germany is struggling with slower productivity growth and a labor shortage.

Buhren added: "We've seen that they (staff) get very creative and find ways to flexibilize the way of working and the time they spend working, so the four-day work is not just any four-day work, there are about 12 different modes we have seen so far."

Productivity is the big question in this experiment, after reaching an all-time high of 105.20 points in November 2017, Germany’s productivity has steadily decreased, according to data from the Deutsche Bundesbank, though it remains higher than other major economies in Europe.

According to supporters of the four-day workweek, working one day less per week would increase workers’ well-being and motivation, therefore making them more productive.

Buhren added that this spike in motivation is also noticed in industries suffering from skills/staff shortages.

"Industries are already facing a shortage of workers, it's almost paradoxical to say, hey do you want to work less? So, while these companies offer a new way of engaging with their workforce, it actually works as an incentive, as an employer branding. This is where the employer is increasing the value of their brand and therefore see a 300% rise in job applications sent to them."

Working fewer hours per week also convinces those who are not willing to work a full week to enter the workforce, therefore helping to reduce the current labor shortage which is affecting Germany.

Last November, the DIHK Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that half of German companies were struggling to fill vacancies. Thousands of unfilled jobs caused a loss of over €90 billion ($98.4 billion) to the German economy over the last year.

While it is unclear whether the shorter workweek will fix this problem in any way, Germans appear excited to try it.

A Forsa survey found that 71% of people working in the country would like to have the option to only work four days a week. Just over three-quarters of those surveyed said they were supportive of the government exploring the potential introduction of a four-day week. Among employers, more than two out of three supported this.

For Tia Robinson, the CEO of the Berlin-based language school Expath, work-life balance was the reason for shortening the work week from five days to four.

"The COO (chief operating officer) and I had the idea for our own personal wishes, as well as for the employees. We wanted to balance our lives better, the COO wanted to write a book with their four-day week. I have a kid, I wanted more time with my daughter. So, we wanted it for ourselves, but couldn’t justify doing it for ourselves and not doing it for the employees, so we decided to do it for the whole company and everyone is really pleased with the results."

Robinson added: "We measured the employee satisfaction and well-being but we also measured customer satisfaction, efficiency of work by looking at the volume of tickets we covered 80% of the time instead of 100% of the time."

Tzerkis, an administrator and a teacher at Expath, said his life has become more fulfilling, and that he has more time for himself.

"Doing more sports and doing it more regularly, having a better weekend, with more energy and time for myself, being more focused at work and taking significantly less sick days."

Asked if he is more productive or less, Tzerkis said: "Especially with the preparations we have done, I personally manage to do the same amount of work. That also required to build a system that would ensure that the work can be easily divided and wouldn’t be time-dependent. But yes, I have much more capacity to focus on the day when I am working."

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