‘GETTIN old ain’t for sissies”, quoth the formidable and admirable Bette Davis. Neither is just living through the 21st century. Covid, Brexit and the global threat from catastrophic climate change requires courageous responses, radical resets and nothing less than a revolution in terms of how we live our lives.

Whatever this “new normal” might look like, business as usual is oot the windae because “as usual” is unacceptable. The inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, at home and abroad, in terms of a fair and sustainable economic recovery cannot stand. On that we are all agreed; what we lack is enough of the visionaries, the ambitious and empathetic leaders necessary to take us into this brave new world.

Some countries though are dipping their toes into these unchartered waters. This week Spain announced they had agreed to examine trial proposals for a four-day working week. The details are still being discussed between the government and left-wing party, Mas Pais, who first championed the proposal, examining the practicalities around setting up a three-year small pilot project which would allow businesses to try out a reduced working week at minimal risk.

In this set-up, the Government would agree to offset a proportion of the costs incurred by companies paying their workers for turning up (virtually or physically) for four days rather than five on full pay. Enthusiasts for four-day weeks claim they lead to better productivity and a more positive and less stressful work-life balance, not to mention the knock-on effects for the benefit of the environment, with Inigo Errejon of Mas Pais arguing that his party’s proposal will put “mental health at the centre of the political agenda”.

According to studies conducted in Spain, many of the country’s workers have been working far more than 40 hours a week with no productivity increase to show for it. Instead it leads to burn out and absenteeism. Now Spain hopes to kick off the world’s first 32-hour working week project of this scale by the autumn.

For those workers juggling parenthood, childcare, caring for elderly parents and domestic duties, such a proposal will be music to the ears. And in turn what enlightened employer wouldn’t want happy and productive workers in their team?

This proposal is a great example of ambition and creativity in a time of flux. Interestingly, the lateral thinking behind this trial has been prompted not just by the dramatic shift in global working patterns due to the Covid pandemic, but through an interest in wellbeing as well as economic common sense.

The National: Millions of people have been working from home since the first Covid lockdown

There are parallels here with changing our perception on what being “productive” really means and changing our attitude towards growth in terms of the economy, with wellbeing and resilience at the core of both these revolutions of thought. A re-shaping of views on working hours, where quality, not quantity, is the unit of measure to ensure better employee value and happy, balanced workers is only the start.

Wider discussions are necessary on changing our mindset on endless economic growth at any cost, to critically examining how we can all thrive but save the planet at the same time. People are burnt out from over-work and something has to give; the push for constant growth is burning down our planet, something’s got to give here too. But solutions require imagination.

Work by self-described “renegade” economist Kate Raworth examines redesigning our economy for sustainability, where a circular economic system would ensure we could meet “the needs of all, within the means of the planet” rather than continue to plunder nature in an increasingly widening gap between rich and poor. Raworth’s “Doughnut Economic Model” identifies a sweet spot where humanity can prosper through clean growth, fostering opportunity and a better standard of living while reducing emissions and global warming at the same time.

What’s not to like? Her work is positive, pragmatic and inspirational, and it’s hard to do it justice in this short column. And what I like about it most is it’s a plan that is proven to work for the companies that have been brave enough to take an innovative approach to how they conduct their business.

As James Murray, editor of Business Green, points out, there is plenty of evidence to show that “the most environmentally sustainable companies outperform and outlast the global average of firms in the MSCI All Country Wide index”.

This is a stock index which tracks global equity market performance, maintained by Morgan Stanley Capital International. Corporate Knights, who describe themselves as “the voice for clean capitalism” compile an annual sustainability ranking, and since their first year of ranking in 2005, Murray notes that “the top 100 companies have generated a total investment return of 263%, compared to the 220% for the global average of major corporations”.

Living and being green pays and it doesn’t cost the earth. So much for conventional business dogma.

Now the Spanish are going to find out if a shorter working week will be a win-win or situacion beneficiosa para todos for employers and employees. It may be a project that starts small and ends up big on benefits for all involved.

Scotland should not just be watching, but leading.