Wouldn’t it be nice to receive all your pay, all your holiday and all the perks that come with a full-time job – but work one day less per week? That’s what thousands of people in the UK have been doing since June 6, with the world’s largest trial of the four-day working week now well under way.
The trial, organised by the 4 Day Week Campaign, involves more than 3,300 workers across a range of different industries, with researchers from Oxford and Cambridge universities, Boston College and the Autonomy thinktank following their progress over six months.
The four-day week is based on a working model that offers 100 percent of the pay for 80 percent of the time and a commitment to 100 percent productivity. Sure, it might sound radical, but the concept has been growing in popularity for the last decade, with trials by companies operating in Iceland, New Zealand and Japan all showing promising results.
Studies have shown that reduced working hours can actually lead to higher productivity, meaning increased company profits and better wellbeing for 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. Seems like a pretty sweet deal, right?
There’s also a hell of a lot of support for it. Research surveying 2,000 workers by NerdWallet revealed that 72 per cent of the 1,310 respondents who currently work five or more days per week were in favour of a four-day working week. But should we be surprised? With stagnant wages, record inflation, a spiralling cost-of-living and energy crisis, the British public are getting fed up with traditional work. Could a healthier, happier new era of work be just around the corner?
Two months since the UK’s major trial began, we speak to three different office workers about their experience of the four-day week – or, should we say, a three-day weekend.
‘I use my extra day to climb mountains. I’ve bagged around 30 so far’
‘I’m a project manager at 448 Studio, a social and digital media firm near Glasgow. We started the four-day week trial back in February and decided to make it permanent at the end of April. It’s been brilliant: the weekend doesn’t just feel one day longer, it feels a day and a half longer. I use Thursday evening to chill out and relax rather than going out with mates.
‘I sell things on eBay in my spare time, so usually will use my free Fridays to list and dispatch items. I’ve also had more time to pursue hobbies, like climbing Munros [a Scottish word for mountains]. I’ve bagged around 30 so far. We’re really dependent on weather up here, so having an extra day to plan around has been really good. These days, if I had a job offer coming from a company that was a five-day work week, I’d really have to consider things. It’s such a huge change in lifestyle and working Monday to Friday seems so draconian.’
–Murray Beattie, Houston
‘I want to learn to play the keyboard and get better at speaking French’
‘I’m a research manager for a small non-governmental organisation, WaterWise. We joined the UK pilot at the beginning of June and have been doing it for around two months. Starting in the summer definitely had its pros and cons: I had a holiday booked, so it was challenging work-wise. It also took some time to get used to being off when my partner wasn’t. As someone who’s always worked nine to five, Monday to Friday, I think being a full-time employee actually becomes part of your identity.
‘Now, I feel like I’m much more in a routine. I use the Pomodoro Technique to get things done and find my meetings are more focused. I do a lot of music groups after work, which take up two or three hours of my evenings, so being able to schedule things like appointments and cleaning for Friday has made a really big difference. I’ve also been meeting up with friends and going for swims. I have a list on my phone of things that I want to do on Fridays, like learning to play the keyboard or getting better at speaking French. Even if I never end up doing them, at least now I can think about it.’
–Laura White, south London
‘I signed myself up for a half marathon’
‘I work in marketing at a recruitment consultancy, MRL Consulting. We’ve actually been operating on a four-day week for more than three years, since 2019. There were things we ironed out in the six-month trial period – for example, we tried still having bank holidays, but three days just wasn’t long enough. Now, if we have a bank holiday on Monday, we work a Friday instead.
‘The four-day week has made a massive difference to my life. I started running and signed myself up for a half marathon in November. Running a half has always been in the back of my mind, but to be honest, I don’t think I could have taken it on working five days. It’s a lot, especially if you’re sociable, so having Friday free to train is really helpful. After a few months of working a shorter week, you really do find yourself in such a better headspace. It’s only when you look back on having worked five days previously and realise that you were probably a bit burnt out and stressed.’
–Jordan Lorence, Hove