So, how successful was the 4 day working week trial?
Last year, the UK carried out a unique study to see the effects of implementing a 4 day working week into UK businesses. Around 2,900 employees took part in the six-month trial conducted by campaign group 4 Day Week Global, which ran from June to December 2022. Thousands of UK employees started working a four-day week in one of the world’s biggest experiments where working hours would be reduced. During the trial workers from more than 70 businesses cut their hours to 80 per cent without receiving a cut in pay. Following in the footsteps of similar trials across the globe, the UK’s pilot of a four-day working week saw 61 companies take part.
Success or failure?
According to a new report into the trial, it was a resounding success with 56 of the businesses that were involved deciding to continue with the four-day week. This equates to 92 per cent of the participants.
What’s more, 18 of these organisations have committed to the policy as a permanent change.
Some of the most extensive benefits of shorter working hours were found in employees’ wellbeing. Before and after data shows that 39 per cent of employees were less stressed, and 71 per cent had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Likewise, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both improved.
Measures of work-life balance also improved across the trial period. Employees found it easier to manage their professional, family and social commitments with 54 per cent stating it was easier to balance work with household jobs. Participants were also more satisfied with their household finances, relationships and how their time was being managed.
Some 60 per cent of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62 per cent reported it was easier to balance work with social life.
However, it wasn’t just staff that saw the benefits of a four-day week, with key business metrics also showing signs of positive effects from shorter working hours.
Companies’ revenue, for instance, stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4 per cent on average, weighted by company size, across respondent organisations. When compared to a similar period from previous years, organisations reported revenue increases of 35 per cent on average, which indicates healthy growth during this period of working time reduction. The number of staff leaving participating companies decreased significantly too, dropping by 57 per cent over the duration of the trial.
For many, the positive effects of a four-day week were worth more than their weight in money. 15 per cent of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week to which they were now accustomed.
Practicalities of a four-day working week
Each organisation in the pilot set its own model of a four-day working week taking into account its particular industry, organisational challenges, structure and company culture. As a result, some employees enjoyed Fridays off, which is seen as the classic approach to the four-day working week, but not all. Other organisations took a staggered, decentralised, annualised or conditional means of implementing fewer working days in order to accommodate the needs of the business.
Implementing a four-day working week in the tech industry
Among the businesses that were involved in the trial were a number of tech companies. Anyone who works in the industry knows it has specific idiosyncrasies that could make cutting working days down a challenge, such as deadline pushes for product releases and an always-on culture due to the global nature of many roles.
The thing about the tech industry, however, is its position at the forefront of innovation that can help to make the four-day working week a reality. Developing solutions to automate processes, utilising tools to improve time management and harnessing new technologies for more streamlined decision-making are all beneficial.
Joe O’Connor, director and co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence in Toronto, told the BBC: “It is really taking off as a notable trend in areas like tech, software, ICT [internet communication technology], finance and professional services – knowledge-based roles that used to be primarily office-based, but are now in many cases are hybrid or remote.”
A global workplace phenomenon
The UK’s four-day working week pilot scheme isn’t the only one to have been held across the world in recent years. The US, Spain, New Zealand and Iceland have all carried out trials to see if they could benefit both employees and businesses. The overwhelming consensus has been that these pilots were a success and are likely to lead to a workplace culture shift in some markets.
Tactics for making a four-day week a success
In order for companies to make the implementation of a four-day working week successful, they need to approach it with a clear plan. Among the strategies that should be considered are:
Not giving everyone the same day of the week off, meaning there’ll still be employees available across five days to communicate with other businesses or clients.
Introducing a different billing model, so income levels aren’t depleted.
Don’t intensify performance measurement to try and ramp up productivity, as it’s likely to counteract a reduction in employee stress.
Will the four-day working week become the new normal?
Experts are predicting that the shift towards a four-day working week is likely to continue and become more mainstream. Mr O’Connor added: “You could see a scenario in tech where by 2026, not offering a four-day week will be almost a competitive disadvantage.”