Is a 4-day week in Germany realistic at some point? BuzzFeed News DE asks economist Holger Schäfer from the Institute for Economics.
The discussion about the 4-day week has come up again and again in recent years. In Belgium, for example, a law was passed in February 2022 that allows working hours to be more flexible. Does this make employees happier? Could the majority of employed people in Germany also work four days instead of five and would they get as much work done in this time as before?
All of these questions arise when considering a 4-day work week and the future of work, which still looks bleak, at least for parents. BuzzFeed News DE from IPPEN.MEDIA asked the economic economist Holger Schäfer from the Institute for Economics (IW) how realistic it is that we will work four days a week in the near future.
4-day week Germany: productivity reserve of 20 percent is “absurd”
In Germany there are already a few companies where the 4-day week is practiced. From a purely legal point of view, this does not contradict the Working Hours Act. Firstly, there are part-time jobs, and secondly, working hours can be increased to up to ten hours a day, even in full-time jobs. This is how it is handled, for example, by the Légère Hotel in Taunusstein (see video above) or a small sanitary facility with which the German Press Agency (dpa) spoke. “It makes us much more relaxed, but also more planned and structured,” says its owner.
Can it be that a 4-day week provides relaxation and maybe even reduces the risk of burnout that even Gen Z is already exposed to? The economist Holger Schäfer is skeptical. Less working time also means that work has to be compressed. “Then there are no micro breaks, which are so important for creativity in many jobs, for example. A reduction in working hours would therefore also be at the expense of creativity in most professions and also mean more stress,” Schäfer told BuzzFeed News DE.
Labor researcher Philipp Frey from the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology Assessment tells the dpa that some studies show that productivity increases when working hours are reduced. Such a study is currently being carried out in Great Britain – the mid-term results are promising. Schäfer counters: “That would mean there is a productivity reserve and that is wrong. Everyone can think for themselves whether they have 20 percent of their time left in their job when they have nothing to do.” Probably not, because why else do 72 percent of Germans even go to work sick?
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“We will continue to be more productive, but not as strong”
“I’m not opposed to the 4-day week,” says the economics expert to BuzzFeed News DE. Companies and employees should arrange working hours themselves in a way that suits them. In most cases this can be done individually. “But the thought that you simply have to work fewer hours for the same pay is utopian. If we all work less, where will the money come from?” says Schäfer, whose research focuses on employment and unemployment.
From a historical perspective, Frey told the dpa, there has been a trend towards shorter working hours over the past 200 years. At some point, 60 hours became 38. The fact that this value has stagnated in Germany for 30 years is an absolute exception, according to the work researcher. According to Schäfer, the stagnation is due to the decline in productivity growth. “We will continue to be more productive, but not as much as we were a few decades ago,” says the economist.
So the question is whether to earn more or work less – neither is possible. “And most people have probably decided to ‘earn more’,” says Schäfer. It is difficult to answer why our productivity is no longer increasing so much. “Robotics and software are replacing human activities, but many new ones are emerging at the same time, especially in the service sector.”
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Less money for social redistribution: does a 4-day week harm poor people?
In an article by t3n , Jutta Rump, director of the Institute for Employment and Employability in Ludwigshafen, says that Germany overslept the introduction of a 4-day week. Schäfer agrees here only to a limited extent, because the decisive question is: “What is more important to us – prosperity or working hours? We could all work just four days a week on average today if we were satisfied with the level of prosperity in the 1990s,” the economist told BuzzFeed News DE.
He also notes another aspect that questions whether one should really want a nationwide 4-day week in Germany. If we as a society decided to work less and accept less economic output, then this would also affect people who are affected by poverty. “If I earn less, then there are fewer goods and services. In the worst case, a 4-day week is also at the expense of those who have the least, because the state then has less money left over for social redistribution.”