A six-month pilot program of a four-day workweek, conducted across 61 companies in the UK, has shown that the majority of employers are happy with the reduced workweek and have decided to continue with it. The program was a breakthrough for campaigners for better work-life balance, and the largest of its kind in the world. Employees worked an average of 34 hours across four days each week between June and December 2022 while earning their existing salary.
Of the 61 companies participating in the program, 56 or 92% have opted to continue with the four-day workweek, with 18 of them adopting it permanently. The trial was organized by Autonomy, a British-based research organization that published the report in collaboration with a group of academics and with backing from the New Zealand-based group 4 Day Week Global.
The pilot covered a wide range of sectors, from finance company Stellar Asset Management to digital manufacturer Rivelin Robotics and a fish-and-chip shop in the coastal town of Wells-next-the-sea. The majority of the 2,900 staff participating in the program reported that their productivity had been maintained, and their well-being and work-life balance had improved. The trial also showed that employees were much less likely to quit their jobs as a result of the four-day week policy.
In addition, the trial highlighted that for some employees, the extra day off was more important than pay, with 15% of them saying no amount of money would induce them back to a five-day week. Some staff had Wednesdays off, while others had a three-day weekend policy.
Paul Oliver, chief operating officer at Citizens Advice Gateshead, one of the participating companies, reported that job retention and recruitment had improved, and sickness levels had gone down during the trial. He added that “staff are getting more work done in less time.” Employers from the marketing and advertising, professional services, and charity sectors were most represented in the trial. Some 66% of those participating had 25 or fewer employees, while 22% had 50 or more staff, and 11% were not-for-profit organizations.
The trial reflects growing scrutiny of how people work, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic when furlough schemes and mandatory work-from-home periods prompted many to question whether they needed to sit in an office five days a week. In recent years, some larger global corporates have trialled a four-day approach and also reported successful outcomes. Microsoft piloted it in Japan for a month in 2019, while consumer goods giant Unilever carried out a year-long trial in New Zealand in 2020.
However, despite the success of the pilot program, many employers in corporate Britain do not appear keen to adopt a four-day workweek. When the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), representing human resources professionals, surveyed members last year, it found very few employers expect to move to a four-day week in the next three years, with two-thirds expecting no change in the next decade.
The evidence that a four-day workweek helped to retain staff could prove powerful for companies struggling to recruit workers, particularly since the pandemic. This is particularly important for Britain, given its departure from the European Union, which has created additional complications in terms of labor supply.