A recent pilot program in the United Kingdom has demonstrated that reducing working hours result in significant benefits to employees' well-being and productivity.
Non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign, and think tank Autonomy conducted a six-month trial of a 4-day week with no loss of pay for the employees. Running from June to December 2022, the trial involved approximately 2,900 workers from 61 different companies, including non-profits, manufacturers, finance firms, and even a fish-and-chip shop. Participating companies had to grant workers a ‘meaningful’ reduction in hours, either in the form of a four-day week or a five-day week but with shorter workdays or schedules. In both cases, weekly hours had to average out at 32 hours over a year – instead of 48 hours in the UK.
Companies rated their overall experience of the trials an average of 8.5/10, with business productivity and business performance each scoring 7.5/10. Revenue rose by 35% over the trial periods compared to similar periods from the previous year and hiring increased while absenteeism decreased. People were less likely to quit during the trial, even though it took place during what has been referred to as the Great Resignation. Environmental outcomes were also encouraging, with commuting time falling across the full sample by a half hour per week.
Workers overwhelmingly approved the new arrangement. They reported less work-related stress, lower rates of burnout, and higher job and life satisfaction. 46% of employees reported being less tired, and three in five found it easier to balance work with care responsibilities at home. Consistently with the business ratings made by company owners, a majority of employees reported working at a faster pace.
‘Results are largely steady across workplaces of varying sizes, demonstrating this is an innovation which works for many types of organisations’, said Lead researcher Juliet Schor. But the study also found some interesting differences. ‘We found that employees in non-profits and professional services had a larger average increase in time spent exercising, while those in construction/manufacturing enjoyed the largest reductions in burnout and sleep problems’, she said.
Of the 61 companies that participated in the trial, 56 indicated that they would continue offering the four-day workweek, and 18 said they planned to make the shortened workweek permanent. The trial has prompted companies to reconsider what is required to complete their work. ‘I think the real question is: Why five days? I haven't heard anybody give me a reason why we work five days other than tradition’, said Simon Ursell, managing director of Tyler Grange. This environmental consulting firm participated in the trial. Ursell believes a strict four-day workweek may not fit every company's needs. Still, he encouraged managers to strive for the sweet spot of productivity by working in the most appropriate way to achieve the best results for the organization.
The UK is not the first country considering the implementation of a four-day week, and these results are consistent with similar trials. In Iceland, for instance, a scheme involving a four-day week with a reduction from 40 to 35 weekly hours was tested between 2014 and 2021 on a sample of 2500 employees in 100 different sectors. The final report concluded that ‘the well-being of workers increases significantly, as does the work-family balance, without impact on productivity, which has been maintained and even improved in some cases’. In other countries, such as Belgium, the 4-day working week is implemented without a reduction in working hours. Trade unions in Belgium and across Europe have been vocal about such arrangements.
Non-profit organization 4 Day Week has previously conducted similar trials in the United States and Ireland. It plans to release the results of additional pilots in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, North America, and other parts of Europe.