After testing the four-day week, companies say they won’t stop

Want to try a four-day work week? Place this on the boss’s desk.

A large majority of UK companies taking part in a trial of a four-day working week said they would stick with it after recording sharp falls in worker turnover and absenteeism, while largely maintaining productivity over the six-month period the study.

In one of the biggest trials of a four-day week to date, 61 UK businesses, from banks to fast food restaurants to marketing agencies, gave their 2,900 workers a paid day off a week to see if they could get as much done while working less but more efficiently. More than 90% said they would continue testing the shorter week, while 18 planned to make it permanent, according to a new report from the study’s organizers.

The idea of ​​working less than the usual 40 hours over five days a week has been debated for decades. The concept has gained new momentum recently as employers and employees seek new and better ways of working. The Covid-19 era ushered in a wider acceptance of remote and hybrid working arrangements. Now, some employers, as well as policy makers, are investigating whether a shorter work week can improve employee well-being and loyalty.

“In the beginning, this was about pandemic burnout for a lot of employers. Now it’s more of a retention and recruitment issue for a lot of them,” said Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College. Her team helped conduct the study with the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global; UK-based think tank Autonomy, which focuses on issues including the future of work and climate change; and researchers at Cambridge University.

Global tests

Companies in the US and Canada recently completed a smaller pilot of a four-day week led by the British study organizers, and similar trials are in the works in Australia, Brazil and elsewhere. Consumer goods company Unilever recently tested the concept at its New Zealand offices, while Spain’s government plans to pay companies to experiment with a four-day week. In a study in Iceland involving more than 2,500 employees across industries, researchers found that most workers maintained or improved productivity and reported reduced stress.

Widespread adoption faces a number of obstacles. Most companies that have experimented with a four-day week are small employers. Many larger companies have not embraced the concept. And at some companies trying four-day weeks, some workers have reported struggling to get everything done in that time.

In the British study, which ran from June to November, most employees did not work more intensively, researchers say. Rather, they and their bosses sought to make work days more efficient with hacks like cutting back on meetings and ensuring employees had more time to focus on completing tasks.

On a scale of 0 (very negative) to 10 (very positive), employers scored an average of 7.5 on their productivity and performance over the six months. A survey conducted halfway through the trial found that 46% of companies said their business productivity had remained about the same, while 34% reported a slight improvement and 15% a significant improvement.

Meanwhile, 39% of employees said they were less stressed than before the pilot program began; about half reported no change. Almost half observed improvement in mental health, and 37% also noted an improvement in physical health.

Zapping meets

Claire Daniels, managing director of Trio Media, a 13-employee digital marketing agency based in Leeds, England, said she joined the trial to see if a more efficiently structured week could improve her company’s productivity. Before she started, she and her staff tracked and analyzed their work week and concluded that 20% of it was wasted on unnecessary meetings, business trips and other inefficiencies.

“So immediately we knew we didn’t need to cram extra work into the four days,” she said.

Confounding everyone on the Monday-Thursday and Tuesday-Friday schedules — with each employee having a partner to cover the day they were off — Ms. Daniels said she and her staff stopped holding daily team meetings for the marathon. And in longer meetings involving clients and multiple presentations, employees would pop in for portions and leave again, depending on how necessary their attendance was.

The hardest part, she said, was for staff to make sure they didn’t slip back into old work mindsets or habits. Overall, productivity was the same or slightly improved, and revenue was up 47% compared to the same period last year, she said.

Daniels said she wants to continue the trial for another six months before making a permanent change, “but I don’t see us going back to a typical five-day-a-week model.”

Write to Vanessa Fuhrmans at

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