too much work to do in less time?

Within months, renewed attention was focused on the idea of ​​reducing the number of days worked per week. For jobs traditionally offered in a 5-day week, experiments are underway in some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain to extend the work week to 4 days.

This reduction in the number of days does not mean a reduction in working hours. In fact, Belgium chose at the end of October to offer companies and employees to shorten working hours to four days instead of five. This decision by the Belgian government was presented as a way of making the labor market more flexible, which was considered “too restrictive” and to give employees the opportunity to better reconcile their personal and professional lives.

In France, companies can choose to change the number of days worked per week, as long as the rules of the law are respected elsewhere. In particular, large international groups established in France answered this question to respond to issues of employee loyalty.

Reduce inequality

For example, the consulting giant Accenture offers some employees to shorten their working hours to 4 days instead of 5. In France, its counterpart KPMG offers young parents to work four days paid for five for six months to respond to a request to employees to spend more time with their newborn.

Two issues arise: on the one hand, the reduction in the number of days worked or the reduction in effective weekly working hours; on the other hand, the definition of reducing the number of days worked in a work culture focused on the permanent presence of employees.

In France, the issue of reducing working hours has been on the political agenda of several left-wing parties for years. The topic notably gave rise to the 35-hour reform in 1998. More recently, economist Pierre Larrouturou and sociologist Dominique Méda published an essay in 2016 to recommend a full-time working standard which is 4 days and 32 hours. worked every week.

The political arguments defended were of two types: a better distribution of work to combat mass unemployment; and a reconciliation of working hours between so-called full-time employees (35 hours and more) and part-time employees, who are usually women with family responsibilities.

Establishing a full-time working time standard of 32 hours spread over 4 days will thus reduce inequalities in access to full-time work as well as less gender distribution of parental duties. In practice, this means that employees whose full time is 35 hours in 5 days go to 32 hours in four days without loss of pay.

same amount of work

In June 2020, the computer equipment distribution company LDLC announced that it would set up, through a collective agreement, 32 hours spread over four days a week without loss of pay for employees who worked for 35 and 37 hours. Since the effective implementation on January 1, 2021, Laurent de la Clergerie, founder and manager, has been extensively involved in the results obtained.

He first noted the effects of reducing gender inequality as advocated by Pierre Larrouturou and Dominique Méda. Laurent de la Clergerie said in a LinkedIn post on April 22, 2021:

“This measure has an unexpected side of gender equality, as those in the 80% who take care of their children on Wednesday found a 100% employment contract”

Contrary to his forecasts, he hired only 30 additional people from an initial workforce of 1,030 employees. Area teams have organized themselves to deliver the same amount of work by playing on the versatility of positions and efficient management of schedules.

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In fact, the main tension at the heart of the transition to a four-day week is related to a work culture focused on the permanent presence of employees. Widespread in North America, this crop 24/7 is considered to constitute a American work ethic (“American work ethic” meaning the centrality of work in the lives of United States citizens) by North American scholars Matthew Bidwell and Lindsey Cameron. According to them, this culture has been exported to other countries and is an obstacle to reducing the average number of days and hours worked.

In 2020, North American researchers Irene Padavic, Robin J. Ely and Erin M. Reid showed that the underrepresentation of women in management positions is related to this 24/7 culture.

Collective productivity

In the case of the LDLC company mentioned above, Laurent de la Clergerie clearly explained the changing relationship with the time that had to work in the company. Once it was set up in January 2021, the manager testified to the novelty of receiving automatic absence messages: “every day, between 15 and 30% of the box responds with “I’m away” or even “We’ve moved here. world where we wait, where we don’t look for the answer right away”, he explained for example in a series of podcasts.

To work properly, the working standard of 32 hours spread over 4 days should therefore be expressed in a work standard based on a specific communication slowdown, especially by e-mail, while guaranteeing business continuity for clients (which is done 5 or even 6 days a week in physical stores).

The equation does not stop there: the LDLC case also illustrates the need for management policies focused on collective productivity. Laurent de la Clergerie testifies generally to a change in management in his company focused on the quality of work life for employees that preceded the implementation of the four-day week.

Proposals, concern with high performance management skills (high performance management practices) identified through research, therefore placed first in the company: semi-autonomy of teams or even a system of collective and not individual variable compensation (elimination of bonuses for sales representatives).

The question of working four days instead of five should include reflection on a work standard compatible with the social issues of reducing inequalities. Specific management policies should be implemented, especially those focused on collective productivity and equal pay.

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