4 day work week trial so successful 91% companies to continue trial shows


If the idea of ​​working four days a week for the same pay sounds like music to your ears, the results of a UK pilot program may give you hope.

Dozens of companies there took part in the world’s largest trial of the four-day work week – and a majority of supervisors and employees liked it so much they’ve decided to keep the scheme. In fact, 15 percent of employees who participated said that “no amount of money” would convince them to go back to working five days a week.

Nearly 3,000 employees took part in the pilot, which was organized by the advocacy group, 4 Day Week Global, in collaboration with the research group, Autonomy, and researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge.

Companies participating could adopt a variety of methods to “meaningfully” shorten their employees’ work weeks – from giving them one day off per week to reducing their working days in a year to an average of 32 hours per week – but had to ensure that the workers still receive 100 percent of their wages.

At the end of the experiment, employees reported a range of benefits related to their sleep, stress levels, personal lives and mental health, according to results published Tuesday. The companies’ sales “remained broadly flat” during the six-month trial period, but increased by an average of 35 percent compared to a comparable period of previous years. The number of layoffs decreased.

Here’s a history of the invention of the 40-hour week, the burnout crisis, and the alternatives employers are using today to attract their workforce. (Video: Jackie Lay/The Washington Post)

Of the 61 companies that participated in the trial, 56 said they would continue to implement four-day work weeks after the pilot ended, with 18 saying the shift would be permanent. Two companies are extending the trial. Only three companies had no plans to continue the four-day working week.

The results are likely to put shorter workweeks back in the spotlight as a possible solution to the high levels of worker burnout and the phenomenon of “great resignation” exacerbated by the pandemic, amid a global movement calling for companies to -office, 9-to-5, five-day work week, and adopt more flexible working practices instead.

The world’s largest four-day workweek pilot has just launched in the UK

More turnover, better well-being of employees

The UK trial’s findings build on results from an earlier, smaller pilot published in November, also coordinated by 4 Day Week Global. That experiment, which involved some 30 companies and 1,000 employees in different countries, resulted in higher turnover, less absenteeism and layoffs, and improved employee well-being. None of the participating companies planned to return to five-day working weeks after the pilot ended.

The 4 Day Week Global group is coordinating these pilot programs as part of its global campaign to encourage more companies to move from the standard 40-hour workweek to a 32-hour model for the same pay and benefits.

The UK pilot program involved twice as many companies and workers as the previous pilot and is the largest of its kind. The benefits for the participants extended beyond the office and into the employees’ personal lives.

Those who participated were less likely to report feeling they didn’t have enough time in the week to care for their children, grandchildren, or older people in their lives. The time men spent caring for children increased by more than double that of women, suggesting positive effects of a shorter workweek on gender equality – although there was no change in the proportion of housework done by men and women per se names.

A majority of employees who experienced the four-day work week did not want to go back: at the end of the pilot, they were asked how much money they would have to receive from their next employer to go back to a five-day work week. Nearly a third said they needed a 26 to 50 percent raise and 8 percent said they wanted 50 percent more pay.

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A better work-life balance is why Michelle, a 49-year-old media executive who asked to be called by her first name so she could speak candidly about her previous job, pushed for a four-day work week when she applied for her current position . After working three and four-day weeks in 2015 when she returned from maternity leave, she noticed a “big” difference when she went back to five-day weeks at another company during the pandemic.

“Suddenly it felt like my whole life revolved around work,” she says. She came “close to burnout” and when her contract with that company expired, it was clear to potential employers that she wanted to work four days a week. In her current position, she has Fridays off and is paid 80 percent of what she would earn if she worked five days.

“It feels like I can breathe,” she said. “It feels like I’m not constantly behind on my family life and feeling guilty and wanting to cram all the jobs and errands and everything into two days.”

The extra free time is especially useful for childcare, she says. She co-parents her 9-year-old son, who has autism. In her previous job, when she worked three- or four-day weeks, “the extra time meant I could pick him up from school so we could spend more time together,” she says. “It makes a huge difference to parents.”

A four-day work week in Maryland? Maybe. Bill would set up a pilot program.

While the four-day workweek model has gained some momentum, it is still not standard practice worldwide, and much of the policy research is limited by its scope. Most of the companies taking part in the UK trial were small – 66 per cent had 25 or fewer employees – and inclined to explore the concept of flexible working. Ninety percent of the participating employees were white, and 68 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree.

Opponents of the four-day work week say that while the policy may benefit some workers, it is not feasible for many, including workers in key industries such as childcare and health care, who are already facing widespread labor shortages. Some employees would rather work more and earn more. And some skeptics believe that worker productivity would eventually decline if the four-day workweek became permanent.

Proponents of the policy emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all and that the benefits of a shorter work week could reverberate throughout society, reducing health care costs and reducing emissions from the daily commute. Their ideas are becoming more and more mainstream. Several large-scale trials of shorter working weeks are underway around the world. In 2021, Representative Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would reduce the standard work week from 40 to 32 hours and mandate overtime for work done above that limit.

There is precedent for a large-scale change in the standard work week: As The Washington Post previously noted, before the Great Depression, it was not unusual for workers in the United States to work six days a week. The 40-hour work week was first codified into US law in 1938. The argument of groups such as 4 Day Week Global is that “we’re too late for an update.”

Rachel Pannett contributed to this report.

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