Four-day week liked by UK employers in world’s largest trial

A man works at a computer on a standing desk in an office in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London, Britain, February 8, 2023.— Reuters
A man works at a computer on a standing desk in an office in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London, Britain, February 8, 2023.— Reuters
  • Nine out of 10 firms in trial stick to four-day week.
  • Companies say employees work more in less time.
  • Four-day week gains appeal, but some companies still reticent.

LONDON: Dozens of British employers trialling a four-day working week have mostly decided to stick with it after a pilot hailed as a breakthrough by campaigners for better work-life balance.

Employees at 61 companies across Britain worked an average of 34 hours across four days between June and December 2022, while earning their existing salary. Of those, 56 companies, or 92%, opted to continue like that, 18 of them permanently.

The trial is the largest in the world, according to Autonomy, a British-based research organisation which published the report alongside a group of academics and with backing from New Zealand-based group 4 Day Week Global.

While the findings may be interesting for companies struggling for talent, other surveys show very few other British employers plan a four-day week soon.

The Autonomy trial covered 2,900 staff in total across different sectors, ranging from finance company Stellar Asset Management to digital manufacturer Rivelin Robotics and a fish-and-chip shop in the coastal town of Wells-next-the-sea.

The majority agreed productivity had been maintained.

Staff said their well-being and work-life balance had improved while data showed employees were much less likely to quit their jobs as a result of the four-day week policy.

“This is a major breakthrough moment for the movement towards a four-day working week,” Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said in a statement.

‘More work done in less time’

Paul Oliver, chief operating officer at Citizens Advice Gateshead, said job retention and recruitment had improved and sickness levels had gone down during the trial.

“Staff are getting more work done in less time,” he said.

For some employees, the extra day off was more important than pay: 15% said no amount of money would induce them back to a five-day week. Some staff had Wednesdays off, while others had a three-day weekend policy.

Employers from the marketing and advertising, professional services and charity sectors were most represented in the trial. Some 66% of those participating had 25 or fewer employees, while 22% had 50 or more staff. 11% were not for profit.

The trial reflects growing scrutiny of how people work, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic when furlough schemes and mandatory work-from-home periods prompted many to question whether they needed to sit in an office five days a week.

In recent years, some larger global corporates have trialled a four-day approach and also reported successful outcomes. Microsoft piloted it in Japan for a month in 2019 while consumer goods giant Unilever carried out a year-long trial in New Zealand in 2020.

However, corporate Britain as a whole does not appear keen.

When the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), representing human resources professionals, surveyed members last year, it found very few employers expect to move to a four-day week in the next three years.

Two-thirds expected no change in the next decade.

However, evidence that it helped to retain staff could prove powerful for companies struggling to recruit workers since the pandemic. Britain has the added complication of its departure from the European Union.

“That should give us a competitive advantage,” a senior manager at an insurance firm in the trial said of the evidence of worker retention from a four-day week.

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