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According to the results of a recent study
A four-day working week can have a significant positive impact on the well-being of employees, as well as on the overall performance of the participating companies. The study, conducted by a team of social scientists from the University of Cambridge, in conjunction with the think tank Autonomy and academics from Boston College in the US, was organized by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign.
The research involved several companies from various industries across the UK, including online retailers, financial service providers, animation studios, and even a local fish-and-chip shop. The trial period lasted for six months, during which around 2,900 employees dropped a day of work, resulting in a four-day working week.
TOn Tuesday, the released results of the trial suggest that the reduced working hours positively impacted the employees’ well-being, with 71% of employees self-reporting lower levels of “burnout,” and 39% stating that they experienced less stress compared to the start of the trial. The trial also showed a 65% reduction in sick days and a 57% fall in the number of staff leaving participating companies, compared to the same period the previous year.
In addition to the positive impact on the employees’ well-being, the trial did not negatively affect the companies’ revenue. In fact, for the 23 organizations that were able to provide data, there was a marginal increase in revenue by 1.4% on average during the trial period.
The report of the findings presented to UK lawmakers revealed that 92% of companies that took part in the UK pilot program (56 out of 61) said they intended to continue with the four-day working week. Furthermore, 18 companies confirmed the change as permanent.
During the trial period
Researchers surveyed employees to gauge the effects of having an extra day of free time. Self-reported levels of anxiety and fatigue decreased across workforces, while mental and physical health improved. Many survey respondents said they found it easier to balance work with both family and social commitments: 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reported it easier to combine work with social life.
“Before the trial, many questioned whether we would see an increase in productivity to offset the reduction in working time – but this is exactly what we found,” said sociologist Prof Brendan Burchell, who led the University of Cambridge research.
“Many employees were very keen to find efficiency gains themselves. Workers were much less inclined to kill time, and actively sought out technologies that improved their productivity,” said Burchell.
The design of the trial involved two months of preparation for participants, with workshops and mentoring based on the experience of companies already on a shorter working week. In addition to the survey work, designed in collaboration with colleagues including Prof Juliet Schor from Boston College, the Cambridge team conducted a large number of extensive interviews with employees and company CEOs before, during and after the six-month trial.
Some senior managers told researchers they saw the four-day week as a rational response to the pandemic and believed it would give them an edge when it came to attracting talent in the post-Covid job market. Others saw it as an appealing alternative to unlimited home working, which they felt risked company culture. Several companies stopped work completely for a three-day weekend, while others staggered a reduced workforce over a week. One restaurant calculated their 32-hour week over an entire year to have long opening times in the summer, but much shorter in winter.
Despite some companies in the trial attaching strings to the reduced hours, including fewer holiday days, agreement that staff could be called in at
short notice, and cuts to benefits, the majority of employees still reported positive effects on their well-being and work-life balance.
The success of the trial has led to calls for more companies to adopt a four-day working week, with proponents arguing that it could lead to a more productive and healthier workforce, and potentially reduce the gender pay gap and increase diversity in the workplace.
However, some critics have raised concerns about the potential negative effects on small businesses, as well as the possibility of increased workloads for employees during the remaining four days.
Despite these concerns, the positive results of the trial have sparked interest from companies around the world, with countries such as New Zealand, Spain, and Japan already piloting or planning to pilot a four-day working week.
As the world of work continues to evolve
It remains to be seen whether the four-day working week will become a widespread norm, or whether it will remain a rare experiment. Nevertheless, the results of this study provide compelling evidence that reducing working hours can have significant benefits for both employees and companies, and could pave the way for a more sustainable and equitable future of work.
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