At the beginning of January, the world media, including the Czech press, shared the sensational news that Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin, proposed introducing a four-day workweek. Although Marin later denied she has any intention to reduce working hours for Finns, Czech media outlets started to speculate: Could such a novelty be implemented in the Czech Republic?
Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček fueled the debate after he posted on his Facebook his thoughts about a four-day workweek.
“A four-day workweek. I understand that when we start talking about changes, we don’t always take them seriously. On the other hand, people once believed that shortening the workweek from six to five days was not possible. And it happened,” posted Hamáček on Facebook two weeks ago.
“Can you imagine today at your job, that if you do your weekly tasks in four days that the weekend will then start on Thursday afternoon? What would you do on Friday?”
His post was based on the Microsoft experiment in Japan, which allowed 2,200 workers to reduce their workweek to just four days. After the study was published, it was revealed that their productivity increased by 40 percent, setting off a wave of interest in the international media. The company also reported saving on energy costs.
However, Hamáček’s colleagues are not so keen on the idea.
Former Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek admits that in the distant future, there might be a four-day workweek, saying there has already been a switch from a six-day to five-day workweek in the 1960s, however, he stressed that any changes have to be in line with the performance of the economy.
Kalousek concluded that for at least the next ten years, Czechs will have to stick with their current working hours.
The Harvard Business Review has also recently speculated about whether the four-day workweek will take hold in Europe, showing that the Czech Republic and Finland are not the only countries where it is being discussed.
While a four-day workweek may sound novel, the idea of reducing working hours is not new. In countries like France, working hours were cut nearly 20 years ago to 35 hours a week in order to create a better work-life balance. In countries like the Netherlands, which has one of the strongest economies in Europe, the average number of working hours per person is only 29, which according to the OECD, is the lowest of all industrialized nations.
Despite some trends pointing to a four-day workweek in the future, current Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerová also warned against such an idea, as she considers it short-sighted.
“If we do not want to jeopardize the prosperity and competitiveness of our economy, the labor market must remain the driving force behind these trends,” said Schillerová, although admitting that trends might change.
“It is possible that with the increase in labor productivity, the workloads will gradually be reduced or flexibility will be increased. This trend has already been observed in many companies, so it is certainly not a utopia,” she added.
Still, as a senior Czech government official, Hamáček has shown a willingness to advocate for the issue, which may provide an opening for the idea to take hold in the Czech Republic.
“I see that I’m the only one willing to fight for a shorter workweek. I can definitely imagine it. Of course, this must be preceded by expert debates. But we should start,” wrote Hamáček in his latest post on Facebook as a reaction to his colleagues’ statements.
The introduction of the four-day workweek is also a long-term topic of Czech trade unions, which appreciate Hamáček’s support in this matter.
Overall, the fact is that the Czech Republic has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe and a very competitive job market. The country thus might have ideal conditions for introducing such a novelty. Furthermore, it could attract even more talents from abroad to join the Czech job market.