Four-day week trial hailed 'a major breakthrough'

The world's largest trial of a four-day working week, without any loss in pay, has proved such a success that almost all of the organisations and companies that took part are continuing with the shortened week.

Printed calendar for a 4 day working week showing weekend days in red in new approach to productivity

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Of the 61 British companies that participated in the six-month trial between June and December last year, 56 have continued to operate the four-day week this year, with 18 of them already committed to making it permanent.The main benefits of the trial have found to be in the wellbeing of the almost 3,000 employees who took part. Surveys conducted before and after the experiment found that more than half of staff reported they were enjoying a better balance between home and work life, with 39 per cent saying they felt less stressed.

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Studies show positive impacts on wellbeing

The number of sick days taken during the trial fell by about two-thirds and 57 per cent fewer staff left firms taking part compared to the same six-month period a year earlier.Juliet Schor, an academic from Boston College, which monitored the trial alongside the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, added: "We don't have a firm handle on exactly what happened to productivity, but we do know that on a variety of other metrics – whether we're talking about revenue, (workforce) attrition, self-reports of productivity, employee well-being and costs – we had really good results."Most organisations in the trial also reported being happy with productivity and performance outcomes, but only 23 provided financial data that showed revenues had broadly stayed the same over the six months.

Could legislation to support a four-day week be on the way?

The trial was initiated by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organisation founded in New Zealand, and overseen by the think-tank Autonomy in addition to the team of academics. The findings of the trial were presented to members of the UK parliament on Tuesday in the hope of generating legislation that would give employees a legal right to request a four-day week.Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, described the British trial as a “major breakthrough moment”. He added: “Across a wide variety of sectors, wellbeing has improved dramatically for staff; and business productivity has either been maintained or improved in nearly every case.“We’re really pleased with the results and hopefully it does show that the time to roll out a four-day week more widely has surely come.”

Companies running pilot to continue the new working arrangements

The London-based Royal Society of Biology (RSB) has announced it plans to continue with the four-day week after participating in the trial. Chief Executive Mark Downs said that productivity had increased and that there had been a decline in the number of sick days."Before the trial, on average, each person would take four or five sick days per year – that's down to less than two," he said. "I think it's a substantial difference."Tessa Gibson, a senior accreditation officer at the RSB, said she would not want to return to a five-day week. "Weekends can be quite hectic, so it has been quite nice to have that extra day to see your friends and family, and then you get that extra day off during the week to do all your chores or to have that time to relax. It has made a big difference to my mental health," she said.David Mason, chief product officer at Rivelin Robotics in Sheffield, said the company would continue with the 32-hour week because "it’s certainly something that makes us a little bit different from the average” and would help with future staff recruitment.David Alatorre, chief technology officer at Rivelin, which makes robots that produce 3D-printed parts for manufacturers, added: “We wanted to instil a culture in the company of putting wellbeing first, making sure that everybody is rested and has a good work-life balance.”Marcus Beaver, UK and Ireland country leader at Alight Solutions – a cloud-based digital business and human capital company headquartered in the US – commented: “We knew that the four-day work week would increase employee happiness and reduce burnout – now we have the proof that it has tangible business benefits. It’s clear that it’s not about cramming more work in fewer days. It’s about producing better results with the days we’re given. Companies depend on their staff, and with boosted productivity and profits, the system clearly benefits employees and employers. “The workforce landscape is changing, and companies must now implement what works best moving forward, or risk being in the past."

No one-size-fits all for flexible working patterns

Peter Cheese, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the professional HR body, described it as "fantastic" to see companies exploring different patterns of working."This pilot has shown the potential organisations have to rewrite the rules on working norms across different roles and sectors, and create better balance of working lives for their people whilst maintaining business output and outcomes," he said.“At this stage there is no ‘one size fits all’ and the reality is we’re some way away from four-day weeks becoming widespread. Our recent CIPD research found just one in three companies expect it to be the reality for most UK workers in the next ten years."However, Mr Cheese added that the pilot project had shown a willingness to innovate and that the four-day week could be a valuable option to improve work-life balance and retain and attract staff."The challenge will be in ensuring fairness, making sure people aren’t overworked on the days they are working, and ensuring productivity can be matched or bettered by working fewer hours," he said."This will mean organisations understanding the people management practices and investments in technology that together will enable employees to work smarter rather than harder.“The four-day week could well become our collective norm, but there are still many things to be worked through, and throughout this debate there must be a clear focus on creating jobs and work that are good for people. This is the time to ensure that flexible working in all its forms is being explored, and that wellbeing and inclusion are key considerations alongside productivity and outputs.”

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