France is piloting a 4-day work week—but only for divorced parents


France is the newest country to join the bandwagon in trying the famed four-day work week. 

But unlike most other countries that have piloted the system for a select few companies, France is looking to open up the program specifically for divorced parents who share child custody.

The French scheme, first reported by The Times of London on Monday, will kick off in September and apply to a select group of civil servants. In practice, parents who have custody of their child only on specific weeks can work for four days instead of five, under the new program. 

The 35-year-old Gabriel Attal, who became France’s youngest prime minister earlier this year, has spoken about experimenting with the four-day work week in the past. According to his plan, employees would spend longer in office on the days they’re working, so that the time worked doesn’t drop from the stipulated 35 hours. 

Attal first introduced the four-day week about two years ago, when he was France’s budget minister. Now, he hopes to expand the system to apply to the entire French workforce, The Times reported. It’s still unclear if the hours will be reduced for good or compensated by working extra on the other days of the week. 

Among Attal’s other proposed economic reforms are changes to the minimum wage system and tax cuts for the middle class.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

Nathan Laine—Bloomberg/Getty Images

France has a pressing need for greater flexibility among co-parents—an estimated half a million children (or 12% of the total) in the country switch between their parents on a weekly basis, the outlet reported. 

Studies have shown that children of separated parents can negatively impact their standard of living, according to a French demographic study institute INED. The new four-day system could help by accommodating parents’ schedules so they can spend more time with their children while working their regular jobs. 

The plan is up for discussion at a government seminar next week. 

Four-day work week across Europe

The appetite for a four-day work week in France has been picking up for years—at the turn of the century, it introduced a 35-hour week. Since then, the needle has been shifting among the French who’ve been warming up to the idea of fewer days at work. Roughly 10,000 workers are already working four-day weeks, Le Monde reported.

There are big benefits to be had—one French company, LDLC, tried out the compressed week and saw that turnover was up 40% without needing to hire additional talent, according to the World Economic Forum.  

Some of France’s European neighbors have had a few years’ head start. Belgium, for instance, introduced a reform that gives people the right to work four days instead of five. Several other countries, including the U.K. and Iceland have all piloted a shorter work week and have seen overwhelmingly positive results. Employees said they were less burnt out and more productive under the new system.

Germany launched a trial of the program earlier this year.

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