Four-day work week: ‘major breakthrough’ as 92% of UK firms to stick with flexible working after trial

Firms said the number of sick days taken during the trial dropped by around two thirds

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The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a “major breakthrough” as 92% of the companies involved said they would continue offering a shorter week.

A total of 61 companies across a variety of sectors in the UK took part in the pilot, which saw working hours for all staff reduced by 20% for six months from June last year. All the employers had to make sure there was no reduction in wages for staff who took part in trialling the 32-hour working week.

At least 56 out of the 61 firms (92%) involved in the trial said they plan to continue with the four-day working week after seeing a reduction in stress, illness and absence. A total of 18 firms confirmed the policy has already become a permanent change, while just three companies said they have paused the four-day working week for the time being.

At least 56 out of the 61 firms which took part said they plan to continue with the four-day working week, including The Royal Society Of Biology based in London.

The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a “major breakthrough” (Photo: Adobe)The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a “major breakthrough” (Photo: Adobe)
The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a “major breakthrough” (Photo: Adobe)

Campaigners and academics will present the findings of the pilot scheme to MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday (21 February). The event is being chaired by Peter Dowd, a Labour MP who brought forward the 32-Hour Working Week Bill in October, which would reduce the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 hours for all British workers.

Academics at the University of Cambridge and the US’s Boston College carried out the research, and the trial was co-ordinated by not-for-profit organisation 4 Day Week Global, in partnership with think tank Autonomy and campaign group 4 Day Week Campaign.

The results revealed a significant drop in the rates of stress and illness among the approximately 2,900 staff trialling a shorter working week. Around 39% of employees said they were less stressed compared to when the trial began, while the number of sick days taken throughout the six month scheme dropped by around two thirds.

Employees were much more likely to stay in their jobs, despite the trial taking place amid the “great resignation” period where workers have been quitting at record rates in search of greater flexibility, the report said.

There was a 57% drop in the number of staff leaving the participating companies compared with the same period the previous year, and levels of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and burnout decreased substantially. More staff also reported finding balancing care responsibilities much easier with a four-day working week.

The results even found that company revenue increased slightly by 1.4% on average over the trial period, and by a much higher 35% when compared to the same six-month period in 2021.

Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, hailed the trial as a “major breakthrough moment” for the campaign towards a four-day working week, stating: “Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, these incredible results show that the four-day week with no loss of pay really works. Surely the time has now come to begin rolling it out across the country.”

However, some downsides of a four-day work week were also reported, with several staff at one large company reporting concerns about increasing workloads, finding their work intensified or they were battling to work through lengthy to-do lists in the time available.

The results also revealed that some managers and staff felt the focus on efficiency had made the workplace less sociable, which was a particular concern for the creative companies involved.

Organisations across a range of industries took part in the trial, including eight firms in the marketing and advertising sector, seven in professional services, such as an asset management firm in Liverpool and an insurer in London, and five firms in the charity and non-profit sector took part, including Citizens Advice in Gateshead in Tyne and Wear. There were also firms in the education, finance, healthcare and online retail sectors involved, with a fish and chip shop in Norfolk among the participants.

Most firms chose to give all their staff Fridays off, while some said they could take Monday or Friday, and others opted for no common day off among staff.

Dr David Frayne, a research associate at the University of Cambridge, said: “We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits.”

The researchers insisted the results show the four-day week is “ready to take the next step from experimentation to implementation”.

“The benefits of a shorter working week for no reduction in pay are now both well-known and well-evidenced: employees are happier and healthier, and the organisations they work for are often more productive, more efficient, and retain their staff more readily”, it concluded.

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