Belgium: The four-day working week for extended weekend


Aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger.

By granting employees the right to ask for a four-day workweek, Belgium is the latest country to jump on to the three-day weekend bandwagon. Prime Minister Alexander de Croo stated that the country is setting a beacon “for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger”. This is, clearly, a Covid consequence. The prolonged lockdown and social distancing protocols made way for streamlining workflow into a work-from-home straitjacket — and findings from study after study have indicated that almost every single person believes that productivity had actually been optimised under those circumstances, even though many were missing the camaraderie of a physical workplace. In short, Covid demonstrated that you can work smarter — and better. It now means professionals can pack in more punch over a limited time, rather than work haphazardly over a protracted period, and then enjoy an extended weekend.

Extended weekends will be the new normal in many markets now, as employees — fresh off the Covid-era boat — have been equipped with hybrid and virtual skills. In a report published by Forbes titled ‘The Four-Day Workweek Is Gaining Big Momentum’, author Jack Kelly writes, “People have taken for granted remote and hybrid work choices and the acceptance of becoming a digital nomad, working anywhere in the world — along with being paid the same as you did when residing in New York or San Francisco. Now, the world is starting to see the dream of a four-day workweek and three-day weekend becoming a reality.” What is also clear is that with work structures and deadlines getting a more discernable shape — thanks to new technologies adopted during Covid — the idea of a work-life balance is no longer a pipedream. A lot of people are now used to demarcating their professional and personal time zones, so Belgium’s attendant announcement that workers will also be given “the right to turn off work devices and ignore work-related messages after hours without fear of reprisal” is a pointer to how things are likely to pan out in the global workspace in the foreseeable future. It is entirely possible that many other countries will follow suit in an attempt to give their citizens and residents the privilege to lead a better-rounded lifestyle — but only after the work has been done with integrity.

When the UAE changed its weekend from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday at the beginning of the year, it also shortened its workweek to four-and-a-half days by giving employers the option to give their staff half-day off on Fridays. A lot of companies immediately complied, and till date, there have been no complaints about productivity taking a beating. It’s quite the opposite in fact. With the added perk of getting a better quality of life, people are putting their best foot forward at work.

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