Recently, countries around the world have begun reevaluating the traditional workplace culture that has overtaken Western society. And with several nations testing out the merits of a four-day workweek and policies like the “right to disconnect” only to be met with largely overwhelming success, people are starting to take notice. Belgium is the latest country to opt for a four-day workweek in this push for a new style of employment that facilitates a more equal work-life balance. However, instead of shortening the hours employees work overall, the Belgian model simply condenses the traditional 38 to 40 hour working week from five days into four.
The labor market reforms were agreed upon by Belgium’s new multi-party coalition government, led by prime minister Alexander de Croo. “We have experienced two difficult years,” de Croo explained during a press conference announcing the changes. “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 only catch is that employees would have to work longer hours each day in order to earn the additional day off and maintain the same rate of pay. But, on the bright side, the new policy includes the right to disconnect, actually giving workers the legal right to ignore their bosses once they’re off the clock. In fact, employees can turn off work devices and disregard any work-related messages sent after hours without any fear of retribution from their employers. The new reforms would also provide stronger legal protections for workers in the gig economy—working for platforms like Uber and Deliveroo—and delineate clearer rules to define who is and isn’t considered self-employed. However, the law wouldn’t put restrictions on anyone who wants to work as a freelancer, but would instead give self-employed workers more protection and autonomy.
Once the laws are actually put into place, full-time employees will be provided the opportunity to request a four-day workweek for a period of six months. After the allotted time is up, they can then choose to retain the four-day schedule or return to a five-day workweek without any negative repercussions. “This has to be done at the request of the employee, with the employer giving solid reasons for any refusal,” explains Belgian labor minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne. Employees will also be allowed the flexibility to request variable work schedules within their chosen model.
In practice, new legislation will apply to all employers with more than 20 employees. But as of right now, none of these measures will actually be taking effect. The draft legislation has to go through several readings at the hands of federal lawmakers before it can be officially adopted. In fact, it could take months for the reforms to be put into law. But for many Belgian workers, this initiative is still a step in the right direction. And in the meantime, the world waits to see who will be next to join the cultural shift to a four-day workweek.
Belgium is the latest country to implement a four-day workweek.