Skip to content

Would you choose to work four days a week instead of five? Who wouldn’t! It’s a no-brainer. What if you had to maintain the same level of productivity as a five day week? Still keen? There is a program underway in the UK exploring this. 

The program

As reported in this CNN article, “The six-month pilot commits 3300 workers across 70 companies to work 80 per cent of their usual week (at the same pay) in exchange for promising to maintain 100 per cent of their productivity.”

The trial is being run by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global, Autonomy, a think tank, and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign along with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. 

The researchers are going to examine the impact this new working pattern has on a number of factors including productivity levels, gender equality, the environment and worker well-being. When the trial finishes in late November, the 70 companies who took part can decide whether or not to stick to the new schedule.

Optimistic outlook

Prior to the UK program, the world’s largest pilot of this nature to date was from Iceland. Between 2015 and 2019, the country had two trials with 2500 of its public sector workers. The researchers called the results an “overwhelming success” with findings that productivity either remained the same or actually improved! Alda researcher Gudmundur Haraldsson said, “the Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too.”

The current UK program already has many employees reporting that they feel happier, healthier and that they’re doing better in their jobs. Workers on the trial have taken up cooking classes, piano lessons, volunteering, fishing and roller-skating, their bosses told CNN Business.

Suited to the 21st Century 

After two years living in a pandemic, many employees have been feeling burnt out. These tumultuous times have brought about a lot of refection about the way we live and work. Most of those who previously spent 5 days a week commuting to office jobs are no longer prepared to do so. Consequently, organisations around the world are exploring new ways of doing things. There are similar four-day working week trials currently being undertaken in Japan and Spain.

While the four-day working week is appealing to most employees, transitioning to the new way of working will be an adjustment. Samantha Losey, the Managing Director at Unity, a public relations agency in London, is taking part in the UK trial. She told CNN Business that the first week was “genuinely chaotic” and that her team was unprepared for the shorter work handovers. However, her team changed their approach and implemented new strategies to make it work. Many organisations will be able to adapt and thrive with a 4-day week, but it won’t necessarily be possible for all industries.

There is also the potential that workers won’t be enjoying a reduced weekly workload of around 28 hours. The three-day weekend may be offered by some companies with the expectation that employees do a compressed working week in which they work 10-hour days four days a week. This approach is unlikely to see the health and wellbeing benefits reported by workers who are working a reduced hours week.

There was a time when many employees were expected to work six days a week. Then later in 1926 Henry Ford popularised the standard 40-hour workweek spread over five days. It’s pretty astounding that so many companies have largely stuck to this format for so long. Perhaps after nearly a hundred years it’s time for a new way of doing things!