Why work four days a week when you can work six? Greece gives it a shot. (2024)

While the four-day workweek has picked up steam in many European countries and even at some U.S. companies, Greece is going in the opposite direction.

The country’s new legislation, which took effect this week, introduced a six-day workweek for businesses that operate 24 hours with the goal of boosting productivity. Workers have the option to work up to 48 hours per week, and those who work the extra day will get a 40 percent bump in overtime pay.

The plan bucks the trend of shortening the workweek to four days, which research has shown benefits productivity and employee well-being and satisfaction. Greece’s government suggests the move will relieve labor shortages, ensure workers get paid for overtime and address tax evasion issues as it relates to undeclared work. But worker advocates say that Greece’s new legislation probably won’t produce the desired results and instead could cause unintended consequences such as high turnover, burnout, illness and even death.

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“It definitely feels like a step in the wrong direction and shortsighted,” said Malissa Clark, director of the University of Georgia’s Healthy Work Lab, which studies work-life balance. “We know long work hours are detrimental to employee health.”

In the U.S., 77 percent of workers believe a four-day, 40-hour workweek would have an extremely or somewhat positive effect on their well-being, according to a recent Gallup survey. U.S. companies that have piloted or adopted shortened workweeks say they have seen the benefits.

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In many parts of Asia and other developing countries, a six-day work week is routine. But globally, more countries are also looking at slashing hours. France is among the most recent countries to pilot a four-day workweek, and Belgium became the first country to officially approve the shortened week back in 2022. Other countries that have been experimenting with the four-day workweek include Iceland, Japan and South Africa.

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But hurdles to the wide adoption of the shorter week persist as many worry about staffing issues, potential productivity drops, increased costs and complex changes to operations.

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Greece’s move goes against much research that shows increasing hours actually hurts productivity rather than boosts it, said Brigid Schulte, director of the work-family justice program Better Life Lab at think tank New America. Instead, increasing hours often leads to workers making more mistakes, being slower on tasks, and suffering from exhaustion, stress and illness.

“The proof will be in the evidence,” Schulte said. “If all of a sudden Greece turns around its economy, maybe people will take a second look. But I don’t think that will happen.”

Schulte also said policies like this often hurt caregivers and women, which then lowers employee and leadership diversity and increases the gender pay gap.

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Greece’s legislation opens the door to allowing people to work a 48-hour workweek but does not require it. And European Union laws require employers to ensure employees don’t exceed 48 hours per week on average, including overtime. But Clark says Greece’s legislation only creates the perception of choice because the increase in pay incentivizes people to work longer.

“You’re making it difficult to turn [the pay] down,” she said. “Also what are the norms and expectations going to be in the organization?”

While Greece is going against the grain and adoption of the shorter workweek has been slow, Schulte and Clark say future trends probably indicate fewer working hours versus more. Companies will continue learning how to make their processes more efficient, leverage tech and discover the benefits to workers and profits, they predict.

“It’s like an organizational excellence mission in disguise,” Schulte said. “Shorter work hours is better for business, people and the economy, if you do it right.”

What do you think the workweek should look like? Let me know at danielle.abril@washpost.com.

Why work four days a week when you can work six? Greece gives it a shot. (2024)
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