A four-day work week works—for employees as well as for employers.
It significantly cuts down on stress and sickness among workers, it increases the productivity of employees, and it also even slightly boosts a company’s profits.Read More »
Largest Trial Ever
These conclusions were reached in the world’s largest scientific trial on the impact that working only four days a week has on employees.
The trial, conducted in Britain and the United States, found that seven in 10 workers reported lower cases of “burnout.” Four in 10 said they were less stressed compared with their situation before the trial began.
In addition, sick days were cut by 65% and the test recorded a 57% reduction in the number of workers who quit the companies during the trial period. As for the profit of the companies involved, that increased marginally by an average 1.4%.
Among the significant results of the trial was that almost all the companies that took part (56 out of 61) said they will continue with the four-day working week. Of those, 18 confirmed that the change would be permanent.
The results were really encouraging, says Dr. David Frayne, a research associate at the University of Cambridge who helped conduct the trial. They demonstrated the many ways that companies are changing the four-day work week from a dream into realistic policy. That change brings multiple benefits, he adds.
Joe Ryle, a director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, calls the trial’s results “a major breakthrough moment” for the concept of shorter work weeks.
These “incredible” results show across a wide ranging variety of different economic sectors that the four-day work week “actually works.”
Wide-Ranging International Trial
A team of social scientists from the University of Cambridge conducted the trial along with academics from Boston College in the United States as well as a think tank called Autonomy. The trial was organized by 4 Day Week Global with Britain’s 4 Day Week Campaign. The survey work was designed in collaboration with Professor Juliet Schor from Boston College in the United States.
Workers Went to Four Days a Week
In the trial in the United Kingdom, 2,900 workers dropped a day of work. The companies and organizations for which they worked ranged from financial service providers and online retailers to a local fish-and-chip store and animation studios.
Other industries reflected housing, consultancy, skincare, technology, hospitality, recruitment, healthcare, and marketing.
During the trial, researchers surveyed workers to measure the effects of having an additional day of free time.
They found that during the course of the four-day work week:
• Fatigue as well as levels of anxiety reported by the workers decreased across all the workforces.
• Physical and mental health improved.
• Many workers who responded to the survey reported that they found it easier to balance social and family commitments with work.
• Six out of 10 employees found they were better able to combine responsibilities for care with paid work responsibilities.
• Six in 10 all reported the they found it easier to combine their social lives with their work.
Increase in Productivity
Before the trial, many people questioned whether the trial would see a growth in productivity to offset the cut back in work time, says Professor Brendan Burchell, a sociologist who led the University of Cambridge section of the research. But that is exactly what they found.
Many workers were eager to find gains in efficiency on their own, Burchell adds. Long meetings that involved too many people were either ditched completely or cut short.
In addition, workers tended far less to kill time. Indeed, they actively searched for technology that helped to boost their productivity, Burchell says.
Interviews Also Conducted
In addition to the survey, the team at the University of Cambridge conducted a significant number of interviews with company CEOs as well as employees. They spoke with them before the six-month trial began, during the trial, and after it ended.
The trial was the first to include such research using in-depth interviews.
The interviews used during the trial enabled the researchers to move beyond simply the survey results to see in detail how the companies were making the four-day week work on the ground, Frayne says.
Response to the Pandemic
During the interviews a number of senior managers told the researchers that they saw the four-day work week as a response to the pandemic. They said, too, that they believed it would provide them with an edge when it came to attracting workers with talent in the post-COVID jobs market.
Some viewed it as an attractive alternative to unlimited working from home, which they felt risked hurting company culture. Others had seen workers suffer through bereavement and health problems during the pandemic. As a result, they felt they had a greater “moral responsibility” toward their employees.
The CEO of a non-profit organization that took part in the trial said he hated the pandemic, but it made all of us realize that families matter and that it is really important to have a “healthy head.”
Work has Become Draining
Others noted that shorter hours were already being discussed long before the pandemic because a lot of work has become emotionally draining and demanding. The head of a video game studio outlined examples of “crunch and burnout” in the industry as a reason that they took part in the trial.
The companies arranged the four-day work week in a variety of ways, some depending on the nature of the work. They also introduced practices such as shorter meetings and reforming email practices to cut back on inbox churn and long email chains.
Completing Chores Named First
When workers were asked how they used their additional time off, the most popular response by far was “life administration.” This included household chores and shopping. Others said the shorter week allowed them a decent break for leisure events on Saturdays and Sundays.
Many employees described a significant drop in their stress levels as they were able to breathe more easily and switch off at home, says researcher Niamh Bridson Hubbard.
For some parents of younger children, a day off during the week meant that they saved on childcare expenses, she adds. For those with older children it mean some more “me time.”
All reported doing more of the activities they already enjoyed, from cooking to sport, volunteering to music making.
Could Not Imagine Going Back
At the end of the trial many managers said they could not imagine going back to a five-day week.
Many employers said they are convinced that the four-day work week will happen, Burchell says.
It has been uplifting to listen to many people who are upbeat, he says, adding that a four-day work week means a better family and working life for so many.
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