The women at the Belgian nonprofit Femma decided quickly how to spend their new free time. Onetook up Spanish classes. Another studied flamenco dance. A senior manager revived her interest in art crafts.
Four years ago, the feminist advocacy organization polled its 60,000 female members on their biggest frustrations. The results were remarkably consistent, regardless of age: The women wanted more free time. Between work and their disproportionate share of the household and child-care responsibilities, the women reported having little time for themselves.
So as a one-year experiment starting in January, Femma implemented a 30-hour workweek for its approximately 60-person staff, which effectively means most take their Fridays off. The employees are being closely followed through December by Free University of Brussels researchers, who are studying the impact of more leisure time on both the women and their children.
“Our colleagues are very happy with this new situation; they’re experiencing a lot more freedom,” said Eva Brumagne, the director of the Belgian nonprofit, who has started a book club focused on modern literature. “They have a much more balanced life, new hobbies and are spending more time with their children. People are saying their lives have slowed down.”
Femma’s experiment comes as part of a new push across much of Europe to reduce working hours, including through a four-day workweek. For much of this decade, the idea of a four-day week has been primarily championed by industry executives in certain business niches – like those in software development or sales – as a way to boost employee morale and hourly productivity.
But over the past several years, particularly in Europe, trade unions, leftist organizations and some academics have increasingly called for a far broader, economy-wide transition to…