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12 takeaways from the UK’s four-day working week experiment

What happened when 2,900 British workers cut their hours? Here are the results of the world’s largest ever trial

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

The world’s largest trial of the four-day working week has been taking place in the UK since June last year. We’ve all been looking on enviously at the lucky few involved, and crossing our fingers that the outcome could save the rest of us from the Monday-to-Friday slog. And now, finally, the results are in.

The trial was organised by the 4 Day Week Campaign, and involved around 2,900 workers from 61 companies across a range of different industries: from a fish and chip shop to online retail and corporate consultancy firms. Researchers from the University of Cambridge, Boston College and the Autonomy think tank followed their progress over six months, and the results are said to largely mirror the outcomes from earlier trials in Ireland and the USA. Which is only good news for those of us hoping for the four-day week to become more widespread.

So how does the shorter week actually work? Employees receive 100 percent of their pay in exchange for 80 percent of their time and a commitment to 100 percent productivity. They also receive all of the holiday and perks that come with a full-time job, but work one day less per week. 

The idea is that it isn’t only a sweet deal for the workers, but for employers too. Studies have shown that reduced working hours can actually lead to higher productivity, meaning increased company profits, and improved wellbeing among workers. It could also help to reduce carbon emissions, improve gender equality in the workplace, help tackle unemployment and lead to a better work-life balance. 

So, you could say it’s a pretty exciting prospect. The concept has been growing in popularity over the past decade, with trials by companies operating in Iceland, New Zealand and Japan all showing promising results. And with stagnant wages leading to widespread strikes up and down the country, an ongoing cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic already forcing many companies to adopt flexible working practices, it’s safe to say the British public are starting to get fed up with traditional work. 

Back in August, we chatted to some of the people involved in the trial who had used their extra day to climb mountains, run half-marathons and learn new languages. They also said that their productivity improved and that they’d find it difficult to go back to a five-day week. So we’re pretty unsurprised to see that the data from the latest study has produced some very encouraging results indeed.

Here are 12 of the main takeaways:

1. Almost every company (92 percent) on the trial has decided to continue with the four-day week. 

2. From 0 (very bad) to 10 (very good), participants gave the experience an average score of 9.04.

3. People took fewer sick days. In fact, there was a 65 percent reduction in days off for illness. 

4. Employees were less likely to quit, improving job retention. 

5. Work-life balance improved. Employees found it easier to balance work with social and family commitments, and said they were more satisfied with their relationships. 

6. Seventy-one percent of people had lower levels of burnout at the end of the trial, while 39 percent of employees felt less stressed. 

7. Companies’ revenue stayed the same or increased slightly (rising 1.4 percent on average). 

8. More than half of participants found it easier to balance work with household jobs.

9. One fifth of employees reported a reduction in childcare costs (versus 1 percent who reported an increase).

10. More than half of employees reported an increase in leisure travel.

11. Anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues significantly decreased, and mental and physical health improved.

12. It would take a lot to persuade employees to go back to the longer week. Seventy percent of participants noted that they would require a salary increase of between 10 and 50 percent to go back to a full, five-day schedule, while 15 percent said there was no amount of money that could take them back to five days.

Academics and campaigners will be presenting the results to MPs at an event held in the House of Commons today, which could mean the four-day week is one step closer to eventually being rolled out across the country. 

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