4-day work week: A good idea, but still a long way off for Mexico

Note published on April 4 in El Economista, Capital Humano [Human Capital] Section by Gerardo Hernández.
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Specialists claim that, from a legal perspective, there are bases in our country for adopting a compressed work week; thus, the main obstacle for implementing the model arises more from the prevailing work culture than from the current legal framework.

The four-day work week has gained ground in the world after two years of pandemic, a time during which all flexible work models gained more relevance and a greater emphasis was placed on the need for reconciling work and personal lives. Belgium recently joined the list of countries that have acknowledged this mode in their legislation.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) points out that some companies in countries like Japan, Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom have tried this flexible work scheme with positive results in productivity and a decrease in the of the levels of exhaustion.

How prepared is Mexico for this trend? According to the specialists that we consulted, the four-day work week in our country is still a mode that is a long way off. To a large extent, the difficulty in implementing this model is related more to the work culture than to legal provisions.

“It is viable, but it is still a long way off. Mexico is one of the countries in which the longest hours are worked and, additionally, it has a short vacation period, which has promoted higher levels of stress”, points out André Maxnuk, president of Mercer for Latin America.

During the pandemic, and despite the decrease in working hours, Mexico remained among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in which more hours are worked per year. Nevertheless, this indicator us just one of the limiting factors in migrating to a four-day work week. The other challenge, in the opinion of André Maxnuk, is the development of a workforce with high-demand skills.

“In order to work fewer hours, we necessarily need to invest in education and training. Our competitiveness today is based on a cheap workforce. If we want to compete with a more productive and better trained workforce, we must invest. Organizations who commit to the development of skills can enter into this scheme of working fewer hours, but it is not a reality throughout the country”, he explains.

The four-day work week still faces significant resistance in Mexico, in the opinion of Olivia Segura, partner of Human Capital Counseling at KPMG México. “I do not see it happening anytime soon, unless it is promoted by large corporations with subsidiaries in our country, and I would see it only in companies that do not depend on large volumes of production.”

From the perspective of the specialist, some sectors could implement this model, but success will depend on salaries not being reduced or adjusted. “Companies who have worked using these four-day weeks have not reduced the compensations of their collaborators. What is sought is that collaborators maintain their earnings.”

Microsoft, with the experiment that it conducted in Japan, became one of the first global companies to try this labor scheme, without lowering salaries. The result was an increase of 40% in productivity and a 23% reduction in the use of electrical power.

Despite the fact that the pandemic aided the progress of flexible work models and an improvement of the work-life balance, Martha Hernández, director of Human Capital Consulting at AON, considers that we still face challenges as a country and within organizations to adopt a four-day week.

“One of the key pieces is knowing the organization and what this change of business goals, the continuity of the business operation and the necessary elements for the transformation would entail. But, above all, it is a matter of culture and openness within organizations, to conduct these interior analyses in order to determine whether we are ready or not”, she explains.

The legal bases are there, what is lacking is the will

Specialists in Labor Law claim that Mexico has the legal bases to allow the implementation of the four-day work week. And, even though they acknowledge that he incorporation of the mode in the Federal Labor Law  (LFT) would provide a greater certainty, they believe that the absence of this model is more a matter of the will to adopt it than the absence of a regulatory framework.

Jimena Sánchez, partner at the D&M Abogados Firm, explains that the LFT permits jobs with continuous work, such as oil platforms in which people work from Monday to Sunday for a month, but then rest a full month. This is one of the bases, but employers and workers may also define, by mutual agreement, the distribution of the working hours.

“The purpose of distributing them is allowing workers to rest on Saturday afternoon, or any equivalent modality; this opens the possibility of having a daily workday of 12 hours from Monday to Thursday and resting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the case of office work”, she adds.

In several sectors, the lawyer explains, some workers can work 60 hours from Monday to Saturday, for four consecutive weeks and have one week of rest, as the legal limit is not exceeded, because upon dividing the 240 hours among the five weeks that the work cycle lasts, the result is equivalent to 48 hours of work per week. This not going beyond the limits that are established by law, it is only agreeing with the employee when he will be resting.”

Jaime Rodríguez, leading partner of Labor Practice at Ibarra, del Paso y Gallego, considers that even 10-hour workdays could be agreed upon, for example, in order for the week to be four days long. At first glance, this may seem an excess in the daily working hours, but if it is analyzed on a weekly basis, it does not surpass the 48 hours.

Additionally, he considers that there is no legal basis for reducing the salary of workers because of the compacted work week. “If you are going to reduce the working hours but you are going to demand the same result, at the end of the day there is no reason for cutting the salary, because the working is not leasing his time, he is providing his knowledge or his physical effort to enable the company to reach an objective. If the objective is met in four days instead of in five, there is no legal justification for reducing the salary.”

The experiment in Mexico

For Olivia Segura, the four-day work week faces a challenge that is similar to the one faced by teleworking before the pandemic: proving that we can be equally productive working only four days a week. But this needs to count on the support of business partners and suppliers.

“That is the first paradigm that needs to be broken for the four-day week, to stop thinking that people will cease to be productive if they work one day less per week. It needs to be seen more as a mode that will enable people to be more rested, have a greater well-being and not be exhausted, and that people deliver much more in those four days than what they would in the other five”, she explains.

The other challenge is the support of business partners and suppliers. “If a company wants to implement this, but the rest of the organizations that it interacts with work in the five-day week model, a great amount of coordination is required.

Worky is a Mexican company that has been working four-day weeks since October of last year in its Product and Technology teams. Six months into the experiment, they have seen a decrease in turnover, a greater ease in attracting talent, an increase in productivity and a greater well-being among its collaborators.

Maya Dadoo, the company’s CEO, explains that the transition has demanded the establishment of clear objectives, the strengthening of self-management and the maturity of teams in requesting help when they need it as well as the elimination of bad habits, such an excess of meetings.

After adopting the compressed work week, the executive is convinced that the mode is a positive one and in order for it to have an increased progress in companies within the country a change of mentality among leaders and clear objectives are required. “The main reason for conducting searches on Human Resources software in Mexico is in regard to time clocks. Even after Covid-19, the managerial team wants to ascertain that the rest of the team is still working.” This is how big the challenge is.