Every few years, the discussion of a four-day working week seems to resurface. However, the concept has never been more in reach than it is now, following the world’s largest four-day working week trial to date. The outstanding results for 61 companies, consisting of around 2,900 employees suggest that the four-day working week might just be the way forward.
How did the trial work?
Companies from a wide range of sectors took part in the trial from June to December 2022, which was run by Autonomy, 4 Day Week Campaign and 4 Day Week Global, alongside academics from the University of Cambridge and Boston College. There were no rigid guidelines for working patterns, as long as employees received 100% pay as well as a meaningful reduction in work time. There were two months of preparation for participants, where they could use the experience of companies who already used similar working models to design their own.
The participants were encouraged to design policies that would suit their working styles. These included:
Fridays off (fifth day stoppage)
This is where the company shuts down for one extra day per week (i.e.,Friday). It’s ideal for companies that depend on collaboration across departments.
In this model, employees take alternating days off. For example, the team is split into two groups where one group takes Fridays off, and the other takes Mondays. This works well where a company needs five-day coverage.
This allows for different departments to operate different working patterns, depending on how their team works. This could also include five days working, but with shorter hours each day.
Here, on average staff will work reduced hours, but this will be calculated over the scale of the whole year. An annualised model would work well for employers who rely heavily on seasonal business.
This is a completely different model, with staff earning entitlement to the four-day week based on their ongoing performance. This allows for employers to make sure that the four-day week is a definite benefit to their business, by monitoring how it influences employee performance.
What were the results?
A combination of administrative data from companies and survey data from employees themselves were used, as well as a range of interviews conducted throughout the pilot period. The results found that 92% (56 out of 61 taking part) of the companies decided to keep the 4-day working week. On top of this, 18 of the companies confirmed that their policy would become permanent following the trial.
The main benefits of the trial were on employees’ wellbeing, with 39% reporting that they were less stressed, and 71% reporting reduced levels of burnout. Similarly, employees reported that they had noticed anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decrease, while their mental and physical health both improved. Other benefits that were highlighted included employees finding it more manageable to balance working with their care responsibilities, household jobs and social life.
There were also signs of how businesses themselves would benefit from the four-day work week, with revenue generally remaining the same, despite employees working less hours. Similarly, the number of employees leaving their jobs decreased by 57% across the participating companies. Dr David Frayne, Research Associate at the University of Cambridge added;
‘The method of this pilot allowed our researchers to go beyond surveys and look in detail at how the companies were making things work on the ground’
It seems that by allowing companies to find the working patterns that worked best for them, the trial was set up for success, making sure that a four-day work week would benefit both the employer and employees.
What could this mean for UK working standards?
Following the success of the four-day week trial, hopefully more companies across the UK will consider implementing similar policies. This is a positive step forward for a more people-based approach to working lifestyles, focussing on how the everyday wellbeing of employees in turn influences workplace productivity.
Different models will obviously work better for different working environments, and it’s important that employers fully consider this before beginning to roll out a new policy.
Do you think a four-day work week would make you more productive on the job?
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