Four-day workweek pilot reveals benefits, but also financial risks

A company in Turku found that reduced working hours with full pay increased job well-being and employee commitment, but reduced profits to zero.

In September, Tomi Kaskinen and Särskild CEO Jesse Särs were still monitoring the effects of the company's working time experiment. Image: Markku Sandell / Yle

Employees of Särskild, a Turku-based company which provides child welfare services, worked part-time from the beginning of last June to the end of November. During this six-month period, the working week was trimmed back to 32 hours which could be done over four days if the employee wanted to.

The experiment was aimed at increasing well-being at work and to test in practice whether it would be possible to move permanently to shorter working hours. Särskild has 15 employees, seven of whom are full-time.

Towards the end of the pilot, CEO Jesse Särs decided to move staff back to full work weeks as of the start of December.

"The experiment itself was a success, but the realities set in," he says.

In December, Särskild added assisted living for young people to its range of services. According to Särs, the close support needed in this type of service requires so much in the way of human resources that reduced working hours were no longer be possible.

Economic factors also weighed heavily in the balance when making the decision.

"We made a roughly zero profit during the pilot. We need capital to develop new after-sales services. It was not possible to turn a profit with reduced working hours, especially when we want to offer our new services at a cost-effective price," Jesse Särs explains.

Employee commitment

Testing shorter working hours at full pay has attracted a lot of attention in an industry where difficulties in coping with work stress and fatigue are common.

Some of the company's employees say they felt that this investment in personnel had increased their commitment to their employer and increased their well-being at work.

According to Jesse Särs, the company's workers have understood the need to end the trial.

"We have not yet had any permanent employees resign, which means that commitment to the company has been good," Särs says.

Other means

The firm has has also introduced other means to maintain the well-being of its employees. For example, new workers receive three weeks' paid annual leave even before regular leave benefits have accrued.

Every Friday, Särskild funds employee activities aimed at maintaining working capacity, and it supports the development of professional skills by paying for in-service training or providing opportunities to study during working hours.

The company's management has been reduced, and the organisational structure has been kept flat, in line with the wishes of employees.

Jesse Särs says that Särskild has no had problems recruiting new staff, even though it operates in a sector suffering a chronic shortage of skilled labour.

The Särskild trial was not unique. Reduced working hours has been piloted in several sectors in the past. However, it garnered a lot of attention from politicians, unions and academics because it was the first of its kind in the field of social services.

Perhaps the best-known call for reduced working hours in recent years came from Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the SDP’s 120th anniversary celebrations in August 2019, when she was Minister of Transport and Communications.