Four-day workweek trial in UK: Shorter hours, happier employees

Findings show companies’ reported revenue largely stayed the same, or even rose, over the June to December trial period.

A platform staff member works whilst people travel ahead of national rail strikes at Vauxhall station in London, Britain, 20 June 2022. More than half of the UK's rail network will be suspended next week during three days of rail strikes.
A trial of a four-day workweek involving 61 companies and their nearly 3,000 employees last year in the UK resulted in happier workers and showed no changes, and even growth, in revenues, researchers say [File: Tolga Akmen/EPA]

A trial of a four-day workweek in Britain – billed as the world’s largest – found an overwhelming majority of the 61 companies that participated will keep going with the shorter hours and most employees were less stressed and burned-out.

That was all while revenue reported by the participating companies largely stayed the same over the June to December trial period and even grew compared with the same six months a year earlier, according to the findings released this week.

“We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy with multiple benefits,” said David Frayne, research associate at the University of Cambridge who helped lead the team conducting employee interviews for the trial.

“We think there is a lot here that ought to motivate other companies and industries to give it a try,” he said.

Improved mental health

The university’s team worked with researchers from Boston College; Autonomy, a research organisation focused on the future of work; and the 4 Day Week Global nonprofit community to see how the companies would respond to reduced work hours while pay stayed the same. Industries spanning marketing and finance to nonprofits took part, as did their 2,900 workers.

Not surprisingly, employees reported benefits with 71 percent saying they were less burned-out, 39 percent saying they were less stressed and 48 percent saying they were more satisfied with their jobs than before the trial.

Of the workers, 60 percent said it was easier to balance work and responsibilities at home while 73 percent reported increased satisfaction with their lives. Fatigue went down, people were sleeping more and mental health improved, according to the findings.

“We got lots of very happy people,” Cambridge University Professor Brendan Burchell said. “People really enjoyed it. They found it such a reward to have three-day weekends instead of two-day weekends.”

Revenue static

UK environmental consultancy Tyler Grange was among 18 firms to permanently adopt the four-day week after taking part.

“My experience has only been really, really positive,” client director Nathan Jenkinson said. “You can see it in people day-to-day at work, that they’re more energised at work.”

For companies that rolled out the shorter work hours – whether it was one less workday a week or longer hours in parts of the year and shorter hours the rest of the time to make an average 32-hour week – revenue was not affected, the findings show.

Revenue grew 1.4 percent over the course of the trial for 23 companies that provided adequate data – weighted for the size of the business – while a separate 24 companies saw revenue climb more than 34 percent from the same six-month period a year earlier.

There was a drop in the likelihood of employees quitting, down 57 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, as well as those calling out sick, down 65 percent from a year ago.

Of the companies, 92 percent reported they would continue with the four-day workweek with 30 percent saying it is a permanent change.

“Not only do these findings demonstrate that the UK pilot programme was a resounding success, but it is encouraging to note that they largely mirror the outcomes from our earlier trials in Ireland and the US, further strengthening the arguments for a four-day week,” said Charlotte Lockhart, co-founder and managing director of 4 Day Week Global.

There are, of course, industries that could not institute shorter hours because they need workers around the clock, such as hospitals and first responders. Such workers and many others have been walking off the job in the UK in recent months demanding better working conditions and pay that keeps pace with the high cost of living.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the world works with people seeking greater flexibility to improve work-life balance.

Source: News Agencies