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Science

4-day Workweek Trial: Shorter Hours, Happier Employees

February 22, 2023

LONDON — Work less, get more.

A trial of a four-day workweek in Britain, billed as the world’s largest, has found that an overwhelming majority of the 61 companies that participated from June to December will keep going with the shorter hours and that most employees were less stressed and had better work-life balance.

That was all while companies reported revenue largely stayed the same during the trial period last year and even grew compared with the same six months a year earlier, according to 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 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.”

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

Not surprisingly, employees reported benefits, with 71% less burned out, 39% less stressed and 48% more satisfied with their job than before the trial.

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

That’s just what Platten’s fish and chips restaurant in the English seaside town of Wells-Next-The Sea has found, especially in the hospitality industry where people often work seven days a week.

“Everyone is focused, everyone knows what they’re doing, everyone is refreshed,” said Kirsty Wainwright, general manager of the restaurant about a three-hour drive northeast of London. “What it means is that they are coming into work with a better frame of mind and passing that on to obviously the clients and the public that are coming here for their meals. They’re getting a greater service because the team are more engaged.”

Starting the trial going into the busy season in June, Platten’s, which is open seven days a week, found the biggest hurdle was finding a model that worked for everyone, Wainwright said.

They constantly communicated with employees to find what worked best, which was having the staff split into two groups, allowing one group to work two days on, and other to have two days off, she said.

The concept lets people work, have a day to do chores like cleaning the house and “then have two days off, seeing your friends, seeing your family, doing some stuff yourself,” Wainwright said. “And that’s what this is all about — is actually just working to live and not living to 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 wasn’t affected, the findings say.

Revenue grew 1.4% 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% from the same six-month period a year earlier.

For Platten’s, “I don’t think we were really measuring it in terms of profitability,” Wainwright said. “That’s not really it for us. We wanted to measure it in productivity. And actually, the productivity has gone through the roof.”

For all those who participated in the trial, there was a drop in the likelihood of employees quitting, down 57% compared with the same period a year earlier, as well as those calling out sick, down 65% from a year ago, according to the findings.

Of the companies, 92% reported they would continue with the four-day workweek, with 30% saying it’s a permanent change. That includes Platten’s, which said it’s sticking with the model permanently.

Charlotte Lockhart, co-founder and managing director of 4 Day Week Global, said “resounding success” of the U.K. pilot program mirrors earlier efforts in Ireland and the U.S.

There are, of course, industries that can’t institute shorter hours because they need workers round the clock, such as nurses and first responders. Those workers and others have been walking off the job in the U.K. in recent months demanding better working conditions and pay that keeps pace with the high cost of living.

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

 

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