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The Four-Day Week: An Interview with Ralf Koch

From October 11, 2023October 23rd, 2023No comments

Many people are now familiar with the principle of the four-day week - at least since a study from Great Britain made headlines at the beginning of the year. In it, 61 companies tested the four-day week for six months, and the results were positive. Less stress, lower sick leave and higher productivity were found. 56 companies were even so satisfied that they introduced the model permanently. Entrepreneur Ralf Koch has successfully established the four-day week in his company and reports in this interview on the challenges and reactions of the workforce.

Best practice: introduction of a four-day model

What does the four-day week mean?

The designation stands for itself: work is only done four days a week. However, there are differences in implementation and usually two variants. Either the previous weekly working time is distributed over four days instead of five, which means working longer on four days. Alternatively, the working time per day remains the same, which reduces the working time by 20%. In both variants, the salary remains the same.

As expected, one would locate the four-day week at young, agile start-ups from the IT industry. The Consulting Innovation Support GmbH by Ralf Koch certainly does not fall into this category. Nevertheless, the company has introduced the four-day week and is enthusiastic about it. The results of the "Four-Day-Week Pilot" study in the UK are also clear: 96% of respondents want to keep the short week.

Study Four-Day-Week Pilot Project

It is worth taking a look at the results of the study in the UK to be prepared for future discussions - because they will come. At 4-Day-Week the results of the large-scale study will be presented.

An interview with entrepreneur Ralf Koch

What does your company do and how many employees do you have?

With a total of 5 people, we support severely disabled and rehabilitated persons in finding their way back into life and the world of work. In addition, we offer services in the field of quality management.

When did you introduce the four-day week and why?

We have been working according to the DIN specification "Service Excellence" for five years. The focus here is on customer delight rather than customer satisfaction. But the system goes much further. In terms of employees, this means, among other things, an extended right of co-determination. In our company, for example, all decisions, from wages and bonuses to strategic direction, are made jointly.

At the beginning of this year, one of our employees came up with the idea of a four-day week. After discussing the topic, we decided to simply try it out. However, the prerequisite was a unanimous decision and that each individual had a right of veto. After a four-month test phase, we introduced the model permanently in June.

Which variant of the four-day week have you introduced?

Equal pay for four days instead of five. Friday is omitted and the working time is not redistributed to the other days. This would otherwise lead to overwork on the other days.

Even before the four-day week, we had the instruction that no overtime was allowed. But I admit that, as a manager, I do work Fridays from time to time.

Particularly when working with external cooperation partners, implementation is sometimes difficult. Sometimes the phone rings on Fridays. But there are also partners for whom this is not a problem.

Did you also have fears? Were they confirmed or refuted?

Of course, there were doubts at the beginning as to whether all this could be implemented without any problems. After all, if salaries are to remain the same, the work has to be done in full as before. The big challenge was that our clients come to us at least once a week for fixed appointments. This made the time frame for all activities outside of these appointments very tight. It was bumpy in the first month, but we found ways to work much more efficiently in the reduced hours.

Can you give examples of this?

Key instruments were a new distribution of tasks and bundling of tasks. If not everyone does everything, individuals can concentrate better on their tasks and thus become faster. In addition, the technical equipment must be up to date and the workplace well equipped so that people can work in a concentrated manner.

Then it is still important to exclude disruptive factors. In other words, small time guzzlers that keep you from getting your work done. In this context, we have improved a lot in customer communication, for example. If you implement all of this consistently, the necessary free space is created.

What effects could you observe as a result of the introduction of the four-day week?

Satisfied faces on Monday morning. No slump in the company's results.

What were the reactions in your environment?

They were mixed. Some were very skeptical about the whole thing. Others reacted very positively and many said that they would also like to work this way. On balance, I would say that there were a little more positive reactions.

Where do you see limitations for the four-day model?

In my opinion, the functioning of the four-day model depends on the commitment of every single employee. If everyone pulls together, it can be implemented. The larger a company is, the more difficult it is to implement because many different personalities come together. For example, a workaholic would despair if they were not allowed to work on Fridays. Others might try to take advantage of the system.

I also see limits when companies work in shift models or according to certain cycle times. This would require 20% more personnel, which is hardly feasible given the current conditions on the labor market and also financially.

""You need as much time to do things as you have to do them.""

Ralf Koch
Portrait Ralf Koch

A four-day week is certainly interesting for many companies and must be discussed individually; after all, three quarters of all Germans would like to see such a working model. In the podcast "Idea Import" the latter is discussed in the context of work-life balance. Despite the enthusiasm and the positive results of different test runs of the short week, this work model must be eyed critically. The very fact that it is not fit for purpose in many production companies brings debates from employers to the table.