The idea of a four day work week has been thrust into the limelight once again following the recent findings of a UK 4 day week pilot.
This question has been a hot topic for quite some time, following similar trials in Iceland and Sweden. The UK trial, which was the largest of its kind to date, involved 61 companies and around 2,900 workers, taking place from June to December 2022. The companies were not required to rigidly deploy one particular type of working time reduction or four-day week, so long as pay was maintained at 100% and employees had a 'meaningful' reduction in work time.
One of the key aspects of the trial was that each company designed a policy tailored to its particular industry, organisational challenges, departmental structures, and work culture. As a result, a range of four-day weeks were developed, from classic ‘Friday off’ models to ‘staggered’, ‘decentralised’, ‘annualised’, and ‘conditional’ structures. The trial was a resounding success, with 56 of the 61 companies (92%) continuing with the four-day week, and 18 confirming the policy as a permanent change.
A significant benefit of shorter working hours was the improvement in employees’ well-being. ‘Before and after’ data showed that 39% of employees were less stressed, and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Similarly, levels of anxiety, fatigue, and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both showed signs of improvement. Measures of work-life balance also improved across the trial period, with employees finding it easier to balance work with both family and social commitments, with 54% reporting an easier balance between work and household jobs, and a further 62% finding it easier to combine work and their social life.
Other key business metrics showed indications that shorter working hours had positive effects as well. Companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4% on average, weighted by company size, across respondent organisations. When compared to a similar period from previous years, organisations reported revenue increases of 35% on average, indicating healthy growth during this period of working time reduction. It was also noted that significantly fewer employees were leaving the participating companies over the course of the trial, with the figures dropping 57%.
For many employees, the positive effects of a four-day week were worth more than their weight in gold. An impressive 15% of employees said that no amount of money would persuade them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week they were now acclimatised to.
The trials success suggests that the four-day work week could become a reality in the near future. News of the trials outcomes has spread around the world, with political figures in the US claiming now is the time to move to a four day week, and the Welsh Government Petitions Committee calling for their own pilot scheme. However, it is important to note that each company designed a policy tailored to its particular industry, organisational challenges, departmental structures, and work culture – meaning that a one-size-fits-all approach might not be applicable here. Despite this, the trial provides compelling evidence that the benefits of a shorter workweek can be realised by both employees and companies.
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