30-hours workweek experiment

30-hours workweek experiment

VUB-study shows less work-life balance stress

In 2019, the 60 employees of Femma vzw experimented with a 30-hour workweek for a whole year, without loss of wages. All full-time employees changed to a 30-hour full-time week. Part-time employees who worked less than 30 hours maintained their working hours in 2019. Some of those who normally worked 28 hours, chose to work 30 hours instead. “Despite the reduction in working hours, we did not find any indication of a higher work tempo for employees,” so researcher Franne Mullens of the VUB TOR-research group. “Employees experienced a decrease in pressure and stress and were more satisfied with their work-life balance.

Femma underwent a reorganisation right before the start of the shorter workweek. This was implemented to make shorter working hours possible: new teams were formed and self-management was expected of them. The research consisted of five measurements: two in 2018 before the implementation of the 30-hour workweek, two in 2019 during the 30-hour workweek, and one in 2020 when they went back to their 36-hour workweek. For every measurement employees were asked to fill in two surveys and a 7-day diary. 

During the experiment, almost all employees chose one additional day off per week, namely Wednesday or Friday. Because they worked less and a little more from home, the time spent on work-related travel also decreased.

The extra free hours were mostly spent on household work, care and personal care. The 36 hours group (those who went from 36 hours in 2018 to 30 in 2019) also spent more time on leisure and media. In their private life, employees experienced a decrease in pressure and stress. Next to a reduction in household stress, feelings of time pressure in their personal (leisure) time also decreased. In general, employees are more satisfied with their work-life balance and employees that did reduce their working hours also experienced a reduction of work-to-life conflict in 2019 compared to 2018.   

Me-time and household

At the start of the 30-hour workweek experiment, the employees had several wishes and expectations about what they wanted to do with their extra time. Above all, the wish for more personal time (me-time, sports, healthy living) was high. Although the employees indicated that the reality did not entirely meet the expectations, the researchers did notice that they did have some more time to be alone and to do calm, in-home leisure activities. Their leisure time was mainly focused on themselves. This is also reflected in a focus on activities such as reading, watching television, etc. Some employees wished for more time with their children, which is reflected in the data. The extra time with children is not filled with anything special; it is mainly day-to-day activities such as household work, care, eating together and talking that is done with children.

Although the wish to spend more time on household work was small, the researchers did see that far more time was spent on household-related activities in 2019, as well as care-related activities. Employees with (young) resident children spent more time on childcare, while employees without resident children or older resident children spent more time on informal care. Many of these household and care tasks were done with more pleasure and less frequently combined with secondary activities in 2019. This results in a more relaxed feeling and a reduction of stress with regards to household work. However, employees do perceive themselves taking up a somewhat bigger share of the household work in 2019 compared to their partner. Regarding satisfaction with the division of household work, some employees are as satisfied as before, while others are less satisfied. After all, their partner did not lessen their paid working time.

Reduction in working hours but no higher tempo

“Despite the reduction in working hours, we do not find any indication of a higher work tempo for employees”, says Mullens. “The distribution of time between different work activities is more or less the same in 2019 as in 2018, only the share of ‘group mentoring’ and ‘meetings, trainings, conferences’ differs slightly from 2018.” The researchers did find a decline in quality of the work atmosphere and the pleasure in work for some teams. These teams had more trouble with the trajectory of reorganisation and the self-management, that was introduced before the 30-hour workweek, than expected. On the other hand, they found a small increase in satisfaction with work activities for the two groups that decreased their working hours.

Report with graphs in annex: Mullens, F., Verbeylen, J., & Glorieux, I. (2020). Time-use research on the effects of a 30-hour workweek: Report.

contact:

Franne Mullens

francisca.mullens@vub.be

0494 36 29 58

Ignace Glorieux

ignace.glorieux@vub.be

0475 25 48 02

 

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