Belgium has agreed a post-covid recovery package to introduce a four day work week, which will go into place once trade unions agree.

The country’s multi-party coalition government said the shorter week would not affect pay. Belgians will also be able to choose to work longer for some weeks and shorter hours during others.

“We have experienced two difficult years,” said Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo, “With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger.” 

The move is part of a series of measures, which also include staff being able to ignore their bosses after work.

These draft measures for the private sector are similar to the ones Belgium introduced for civil servants in January. 

People who want to work the flexible hours will need to make a request and, after 6 months if they are unhappy with the changes, can go back to the five day week, with no reprisals.

Protection for gig workers

Freelancers will have more robust legal protection under the draft laws. 

These will include specific definitions on whether they are classified as employees or self-employed. Making this distinction will decide whether they received insurance against work-related injuries, paid time off or sick leave pay.

The government was keen to point out that the rules will not stop anyone from being self-employed or working autonomously.

Case studies

Here in the UK, companies have been offering four day weeks to staff for the past 6 months to promote a better work-life balance. 

The digital insurance firm, iGO4, launched a four day work week this month to its 300 staff with the same pay.

Doing things differently is engrained in our culture and, coming out of the pandemic, we recognised we had the opportunity to take the positives from our Covid experience,” said iGO4 CEO and founder, Matt Munro,  “and create a new working environment that would make a genuine difference to people’s wellbeing and work-life balance.”

Jamie Mckenzie from employee engagement specialist, Sodexo Engage said the four day work week might prevent managers from putting in meetings for the sake of having one, which deflates productivity. He added: “With a cut down in working time, we’d not only have more time to decompress and hopefully tackle employee burnout in a sustainable way, but we’d be forced to reassess how to best use our time working.”

And Alan Price CEO at Bright HR warned that if implemented, a four day work week must be monitored. He said this would ensure employees weren’t working harder on the days they were in the office, which would inevitably also cause burnout.

He said: ““Employees on 4-day weeks are often still expected to produce the same levels of work as they would in 5 days, so find themselves more stressed. They may feel forced to work overtime during evenings or weekends which, ultimately, can end up causing more problems than you started with.”

It will be months before the draft reforms are incorporated into Belgian law, but with the majority of federal lawmakers backing the move, the law is likely to have very little opposition.