Four-Day Working Week Is Already in Use for Some Slovaks

four-day working week
Vincent van Gogh: The Painter on His Way to Work // public domain

We all want higher wages for less work. This explains why the four-day working week is such a popular topic in the media. But it is even less of a justification for the emotions that run high when the subject is discussed. These, in turn, prevent rational argumentation and consideration of all the problems with this popular proposal.

For example, strong emotional reactions emerged after we pointed out that some employees in Slovakia can already work four days a week on average. We may have a 40-hour working week, but employees are also entitled to plenty of paid time off. Let us take the example of a 34-year-old employee of a small business. He is entitled to 5-week holidays, 13 holidays in 2023 fell outside of weekends, and this employee may have 7 doctor’s visits (and the same number as a companion or maybe on PN or sick leave, which we will ignore for our calculations).

If we subtract weekends from the calendar year, that leaves roughly 260 days. Our 34-year-old employee will work 215 of those days. This means 1,720 hours per year, which is an average of 33 hours per week. If we look at the model example of a public sector employee, he has one extra week of holiday and a reduced working week of 37,5 hours. Thus, on average, he works 30 hours a week in a year. According to OECD data, the average Slovak works 1533 hours a year, which is the minimum part-time work in Slovakia. These are the reasons why the values of this indicator are even lower in Western Europe.

Few people realize that there are so many holidays and days off that there is almost enough for one day every week of the year. A public employee spends 57.5% of the year at work. Almost half of the year he does not work.

These calculations say nothing about whether Slovaks work more or less than abroad, where employees have similar rights. Or that we accuse public employees of laziness. Or that we already have a real four-day working week in Slovakia. These have been the frequent reactions of people to these calculations. All these calculations show that the actual hours worked are significantly lower than many of us think and is the official working week.

This is very important to realize, as labor productivity, and thus people’s earnings, are not based on what is described in law books and paragraphs, but on what is produced in the real world, in a real company in a real workplace (at least in the private sector). When someone proposes further reductions in real hours worked, it is useful to know how many real hours we already work today. After all, we may find that if we cut statutory working hours by a further 8 hours a week, then many employees will realistically only work an average of three days a week.

That does not mean they should not want to work for three days. People may well want to work only two days. Such employees do exist. It is called part-time work. But these employees are well aware that they are exchanging free time for lower earnings.

However, this is the message that the advocates of the four-day working week are trying to keep from the people. They spread distorted reports of low-quality research on the four-day workweek, the shortcomings of which have been highlighted by a European Commission study. They play on the emotional strings of promises of cakes without work. Part of that song ignores the fact that, on average, the hours worked by employees may already be approaching four days a week.

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Robert Chovanculiak