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Is it finally time for the four-day work week?
Results from a new pilot program at dozens of UK employers showed huge benefits to workers’ health and productivity when their hours were reduced – and a large majority of businesses plan to stick to the condensed schedule.
Advocates say the results help validate the idea that it is possible for companies to shorten the workweek to 32 hours without a reduction in wages while maintaining previous levels of labor output.
“We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies turned the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy, with multiple benefits,” David Frayne, a researcher at the University of Cambridge who worked on the trial, said in a statement .
“We think there’s a lot here that should motivate other companies and industries to try it,” Frayne added.
The pilot program was a collaboration between the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week Campaign in the UK and the think tank Autonomy.
It included approximately 2,900 workers in 61 companies – from non-profits, manufacturers and financial firms to even a fish and chip shop – and ran from June to December last year.
Both workers and companies reported improvements
While more than half of companies reported switching all their workers to a four-day work week, employers were only required to give their employees a “meaningful” reduction in hours, which could also include five-day weeks with shorter work days or schedules that varied in length from week to week, but averages to 32 hours per week over the course of a year.
Mostly approved by the workers themselves. Employees reported less work-related stress, lower burnout and higher job satisfaction. A majority of employees reported working at a faster pace.
There were physical and mental health benefits – 46% of employees said they were less tired – and three in five respondents said it was easier to balance work with caring responsibilities at home.
“The results are largely stable across workplaces of varying sizes, showing that this is an innovation that works for many types of organizations,” said Juliet Schor, a professor at Boston College and the project’s principal investigator.
How employees spent their free time differed by the type of work they performed, researchers found. Those who worked in nonprofits and professional services spent more time exercising, while those in construction and manufacturing reported the biggest decreases in burnout and sleep problems, Schor said.
The results also appeared to be positive from the company’s perspective.
Revenue increased by an average of 1.4% during the study period, according to data from 23 organizations that provided it. Absenteeism fell, and people were less likely to quit during the trial, even though it took place during what has been called the Great Resignation, the authors noted.
Of the 61 companies that participated in the trial, 56 said they would continue to offer the four-day work week until further notice. Eighteen said they planned to shorten the work week permanently.
Among them is Tyler Grange, an environmental consultancy based in England. CEO Simon Ursell told NPR that the firm invested in technology and stopped doing “day-to-day junk” of certain administrative tasks to squeeze the required weekly workload into four days instead of five.
“If you give people an incentive to do something — like a really cool incentive, and it’s an incentive that money can’t buy, and give them a full day a week for the same pay to do what they want to do — it really focuses the mind,” he said.
Ursell agreed that a strict four-day work week may not suit all companies’ needs, but he encouraged managers to reassess what is necessary to get the job done.
“I think the real question is: Why five days? I haven’t heard anyone give me a reason why we work five days outside of tradition,” he said. “What I think the trial has proven is that working in a way that’s most applicable to your organization to achieve the best productivity, the best productivity at the moment, that’s what you’re aiming for to me.”
4 Day Week has previously conducted similar trials in the US and Ireland and says it will also release results from pilots in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, North America and elsewhere in Europe.