What does this mean in the practice? What kind of employment-law-related questions arise in connection with its implementation?

The book of Timothy Ferriss titled “4-Hour workweek” was published in 2007 and since then masses of entrepreneurs have read it. The impressive title and subtitle of the book promises that readers can learn how to leave off 9 to 5 work and how to create more free time and thus, a more balanced and happy life for themselves.
Targeting a weekly working time shorter than 40 hours is known also in case of employment relationships. Since 2020 – in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic – the different types of flexible working arrangements were spread significantly and 4-day workweek has been implemented in several countries, in a pilot or a final way.
What does this method mean in the practice and how can it be reconciled with the Hungarian law? What are the advantages and disadvantages thereof under the present economic conditions?

1. The four-day workweek model in the practice

Four-day workweek may be managed e.g. in a weekly working time frame, when full time employees perform the 40 hours weekly working time during 4 days, in 10-hours daily shifts.
However, four-day workweek means mainly that the same work is performed by the employees more efficiently, during 4 days instead of 5 days, i.e. during a shorter weekly working time, while their salary and in-kind benefits are not reduced.

The essence of the idea is that due to the one more day-off employees are more relaxed and thus they work more concentrated and efficiently. In general, part of the project is that employers strive efficiency with further tools, e.g. by reducing the number of meetings.

2. Advantages and disadvantages

One of the advantages of this method is that it enables one day more rest for employees, which support the mitigation of the detrimental impact of stress and to avoid burn-out. Whereby sick leaves as well as turnover may be reduced.
More free time support work-life balance which may also improve the motivation and satisfaction of employees.
Due to shorter presence at the workplace employers can save costs, which may be an important matter nowadays due to the increased energy prices. Saving energy may serve also climate protection goals.
Although, in this model wage costs do not decrease in total, but employer may argue with the shorter working time against employees’ claim for salary increase. Thus, wage costs do not increase either, even though due to the high inflation and price increases employees request significant salary increase also during the year.
Despite the several advantages of the model, four-day workweek is not applicable in all roles or branches. In case of some employees, it may be even counterproductive, when pressure and stress level increases due to the shorter weekly working time. This may harm both work performance and the health of employees.
With regard to the novum of the model and to the potential disadvantages thereof several employers decided to implement it first in a pilot phase – with the inclusion of some employees/roles – to see whether the model is efficient and manageable.

3. Employment-law-related questions, challenges

From employment law perspective one of the most important questions is whether the method covers a reduced full working time or a part time employment. How the weekly working time can be scheduled? What shall be considered as overtime?

Further, an employment relationship reaching 36 hours weekly may be important from taxational perspective as well.
Related to the one more rest day it also arises what the legal title of the absence is. Further, how the annual holiday shall be calculated and how it shall be allocated in the new model.
Depending on the above it also arises whether the employment contracts must be amended and if yes, in which extent.

4. Further aspects to be considered before the implementation of the model
Although, four-day workweek may seem to be attractive from the employees’ perspective, it should be taken into consideration that some employees would like rather salary increase or would undertake even overtime instead of the rest day.
On the other hand, some employees may decide that using the one more rest day they enter into an additional employment relationship or establish their own business rather than resting or organizing family events. In this regard non-competition rules must be paid attention to as well as employers must assess what impacts this phenomenon might have on the efficiency and functionality of the method.