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More Austrian companies moving ahead with four-day work week in 2023

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
More Austrian companies moving ahead with four-day work week in 2023
Employees are typically insured for any legal disputes that may come up in their duties - but personal legal insurance can help with any disputes the employee has with their employer. (Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash)

The four-day workweek is becoming increasingly popular among Austrian employers, with one expert saying to expect it to become more and more normal in the Alpine republic – whatever the government says.

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The full-time vs. part-time work debate has reared up again in Austria this year – with companies bucking both government policy and public opinion to reduce working hours in a bid to attract employees during Austria’s ongoing skilled labour shortage.

The country’s current debate really kicked off in February, when Labour Minister Martin Kocker of the centre-right ÖVP stirred controversy when he said Austria should consider reducing certain benefits for people in part-time work – in order to incentivise more full-time jobs.

According to a recent poll, about 65 percent of Austrians are sceptical of part-time work, citing concerns over the sustainability of the country’s pension system.

But many Austrian companies are shortening the work weeks of their employees  - while keeping them on the same salary.

READ ALSO: Why only a quarter of Austrians trust the pension system

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Der Standard journalist Anika Dang even asked in January whether 2023 would be the “Year of the Four-day Week.” One company in Upper Austria had already started it in 2018 and now reported they had absolutely no problem attracting talent – whatever the skilled labour shortage.

This is all for one simple reason, according to one expert. Because it works.

“It’s amazing,” says Martin Gaedt, author of Vier-Tage Woche or “Four-Day Week.” “It’s much better than any expert would’ve thought.”

For his book, Gaedt interviewed 150 companies in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland that have changed to the four-day work week. While Swiss companies lag a bit behind on adopting the four-day week, Gaedt says Austrian employers are just as likely as German ones to be making the switch.

Martin Gaedt

Martin Gaedt, author of 4-Tage Woche or "4-Day Week" says more Austrian companies are deciding for the model - whatever politicians say. Photo: Martin Gaedt

Some Austrian companies have already been doing it for years. Every day, Gaedt says, he sees 20 to 30 companies in German-speaking countries cut the fifth day – including a fair share from Austria. He predicts thousands more will be on the four-day week by the end of the year.

He also says the four-day week is now found in virtually every Austrian sector, whether it’s hotels, carpenters, roofers, healthcare, or kindergartens. The local government of Villach has even started operating on a four-day workweek.

Gaedt says the key is finding a model that works for employees, which can vary depending on the company. He notes that some firms have reduced their expected working time to 32 hours or even 30 while keeping employees on the same salary. Others have models where employees are still expected to work 38 hours a week but can choose to do it over five days or four – at their discretion. Wiener Linien, Vienna’s transport network, follows a similar model.

Some companies have half their team in on Mondays and the other half in on Fridays, whereas some places – like hairdressers or bakeries that have adopted it – simply close for the other three days of the week.

READ ALSO: Will a 4-day week and free German lessons help Vienna’s transport network find staff?

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'It’s a decision every company can already choose today'

For Gaedt, the benefits from his research are clear – for both employers and employees.

“The rate of sick people in the companies has dropped by half,” he says. “One company even said they didn’t have one sick person the whole of last year.”

Hospitality companies have benefitted in another way.

“The whole atmosphere in the company is better. The people are happier. The people are healthier,” he says, noting that hotels that have introduced it report how much friendlier their staff are to customers.

READ ALSO: Is Austria planning to adopt a 4-day week?

“People are so happy to have more free time,” Gaedt says, noting that they use this time to do more sports and cook healthy meals at home while eating less junk food. “Ask anyone who has experienced a four-day work week—they don’t want to go back.”

He notes that companies have all reaped these benefits without losing any productivity. Although some politicians might be resistant, he expects more companies will simply introduce it on their own.

“I don’t think we need politics in this discussion because it’s a decision every company can already choose today,” he says.

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