More than 3300 employees across 70 companies in Britain — from builders to financial firms — are beginning the world’s biggest trial of a four-day work week, with no loss of pay.
The pilot is running for six months, and was organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week Campaign.
Significantly however, all participating employees will be monitored by researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College.
They’ll track the impact on productivity in the business, and the wellbeing of workers, as well as the impact the shorter week has on the environment and gender equality.
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More locally, business leaders will be keeping a close eye on the pilot as 20 organisations in Australia and New Zealand prepare to offer staff a long weekend every week without any change in pay from August.
Among those participating is mortgage brokerage More Than Mortgages in Canberra, social enterprise Our Community, marketing agency The Walk, and mental health organisation Momentum Mental Health.
And like its British counterpart, Australia and New Zealand’s trial will be closely monitored to observe benefits and pitfalls — in this instance, by researchers at the University of Sydney, Boston College, and the University of Queensland.
The idea of the shorter week is to offer employees flexible hours while increasing their productivity during working hours, and comes as workplaces are rethinking the traditional parameters of the 9-5 working week amid the disruption of the pandemic.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” said chief executive of 4 Day Week Global Joe O’Connor.
And there’s a strong basis for the hypothesis. Research from 4 Day Week Global found three-quarters of employees working a four-day week reported that they were happier and less stressed, and two-thirds of companies found it easier to attract and retain talent.
Aside from offering staff a better work-life balance, less time in the office means less spent on electricity (including air conditioning) and also means fewer cars on the road, which has a significant environmental benefit.
But it wouldn’t suit every sector, chief marketing officer at UK-based performance marketing platform Affise Sam O’Brien said. He believes social media influencers and marketers, high street retailers and e-commerce companies are in the best position to trial the shortened week.
He said influencers and marketers are already working a lot of unpaid hours outside of work and risk burnout, while high street retailers and e-commerce companies would save on overheads by trialling the concept.
And it’s worked before. In August 2019, Microsoft Japan rolled out a four-day week trial for their 2300 employees, offering them five Fridays off in a row.
Productivity jumped 40%, meetings were more efficient, and workers took a lot less time off for sick or annual leave, while the workplace used 23% less electricity and 59% less printing.
Elsewhere, Spain is running a three-year trial of the four-day work week and workers in Belgium can now ask their boss to work one day less a week under the country’s new employment reforms.
From 2015 to 2019, 2500 public sector workers in Iceland worked a four-day week which found no corresponding drop in productivity among participants, though a dramatic increase in employee wellbeing.