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  • Spain will test a four-day work week in a new pilot program this year, The Guardian reports.
  • The government will cover costs for employers who offer their workers a 32-hour work week.
  • The four-day work week has gained steam around the world and has been tested by Microsoft in Japan.
  • See more stories on Business Insider SA's home page.

Spain is set to become one of the first countries to test out a four-day work week, an experiment advocates have long argued boosts productivity and creativity among workers.

According to The Guardian's Ashifa Kassam, the Spanish government agreed to a pilot program earlier this year at the urging of left-wing party Más País and has been meeting with the group party since to dictate terms of the program. While details haven't yet been solidified, Más País is proposing a three-year, €50-million project that would allow companies to test out a 32-hour work week without docking employee pay.

As part of the four-day work week program, the government would cover 100% of companies' costs for the first year, 50% for the second year, and 33% for the third year.

"The only red lines are that we want to see a true reduction of working hours and no loss of salary or jobs," Héctor Tejero of Más País told The Guardian.

The program, though likely to be small, is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, but the movement has gained steam in other countries over the years. Last May, early on in the pandemic, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brought up the idea of a four-day work week as a way to stimulate domestic tourism and create flexibility for employees.

"I'd really encourage people to think about that, if you're an employer and in a position to do so, if that's something that would work for your workplace," Ardern said.

Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, has also broached the subject in the past. Prior to the pandemic, Marin called it "the next step" for workers, saying it would allow them to spend more time with their families. The UK's Labour Party has also campaigned on the idea, and France already has a shorter work week than is typical: it's capped at 35 hours.

Back in 2018, Andrew Barnes, the founder of a New Zealand-based estate planning service provider called Perpetual Guardian, ran a trial where he gave all 240 of his employees one paid day off per week with impressive results. Employees were more engaged and less stressed, and had better work-life balance. It led the company to institute a permanent policy the employees could opt into.

Since then, a few major companies have tested out a four-day work week as well. In 2019, Microsoft ran an experiment at its Japan subsidiary called "Work-Life Choice Challenge." The initiative ran over the northern hemisphere summer and was designed to examine work-life balance and boost creativity and productivity by offering workers more flexible hours. Offices were closed every Friday throughout the month of August 2019 and employee productivity was measured. Microsoft found that labor productivity increased by 39.9% compared with the same month a year prior.

The experiment had environmental benefits as well: the number of pages printed out decreased by 58.7% and the amount of electricity consumed was down 23.1%, Microsoft said at the time.

American burger chain Shake Shack also began testing a similar shortened work week for managers as some of its restaurants in an effort to attract and retain talent, and the perk became instantly popular among employees, particularly women. The shortened week meant workers were "able to take their kids to school a day a week, or one day less of having to pay for day care," Shake Shack President Tara Comonte told NPR last year.

Amid the pandemic, social media management firm Buffer adopted a four-day work week at least through the end of 2020 in an effort to help employees navigate the stress brought on by the pandemic.

While it remains to be seen how successful the movement will be, particularly in a post-pandemic world, it has support from workers. A 2018 survey of nearly 3,000 workers in eight countries led by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found that 34% would prefer a four-day work week if pay stayed the same, while 35% would take a pay cut in order to work one fewer day per week.

A survey conducted by The Harris Poll from last June found that support for a shortened work week has surged in the US: 82% of employed Americans said they would prefer shorter weeks, even if it meant longer workdays.

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