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Four-day work week ‘no longer dream’ with 86% of trial firms wanting to keep it

Commuters walk through busy London street
From chippies to corporate giants, a laundry bag of employers are taking part (Picture: Getty)

A four-day workweek may no longer be a ‘future dream’ after nine in 10 companies said they’d extend the policy beyond a six-month trial.

More than 3,300 workers in 73 companies that include banks, retailers, healthcare, hospitality and more agreed to take part in the trial from June to November.

Now at the halfway point, 41 out of the 70 companies were surveyed by organisers.

A thumping 86% said they’d consider keeping the four-day workweek policy beyond the trial period and 88% of employers said the scheme is working ‘well’.

Nearly half said productivity has ‘maintained around the same level’, while 34% said it ‘improved slightly’ and 15% reported it ‘improved significantly’.

While 29 said the transition from five to four working days has been ‘extremely smooth’.

The pilot is being organised by nonprofits 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign alongside Autonomy, which studies the impact of labour on well-being, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

Kyle Lewis, co-director of Autonomy, told ‘The mid-point survey results are very encouraging.

Commuters during the evening rush hour at Waterloo Station in London. Picture date: Thursday August 18, 2022. PA Photo. Rail services are set to be severely disrupted as members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union strike in a continuing row over pay, jobs and conditions. See PA story INDUSTRY Rail. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Labour experts say productivity rises if workers clock-in fewer hours (Picture: PA)

‘Increasing productivity, reducing sickness and improving worker well-being is just a small sample of the many well-established benefits of switching to a four-day week.’

Joe Ryle, the campaign director for the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: ‘Ultimately, it’s about giving us the time to live happier, more fulfilled lives. It’s a change that’s long overdue.’

It’s also a change that long seemed unthinkable, Mr Ryle said.

Research has found that British workers work an average of 42 hours per week, nearly two more hours than the EU average.

But after the government’s furlough scheme and with working from home more common, suddenly a four-day workweek doesn’t seem so out there.

‘The coronavirus pandemic was the catalyst for a total rethink of work,’ Mr Ryle said.

Jack Kellam, a researcher for Autonomy, said current data is already suggesting that a shorter week could ease the cost of living crisis and make it easier for caregivers to juggle responsibilities.

Autonomy found that someone with a child under two would save £1,440 in childcare and £340 from commuting on average across a year if they did not have to travel to work one day a week.

Some of the British companies taking part in the trial

  • Yo Telecom
  • Adzooma
  • Pressure Drop Brewing
  • Happy
  • Platten’s Fish and Chips
  • MBL Seminars
  • Eurowagens
  • Bookishly
  • Outcomes First Group
  • NeatClean
  • 5 Squirrels
  • Salamandra
  • Tyler Grange
  • Girling Jones
  • AKA Case Management
  • IE Brand & Digital
  • Helping Hands
  • Trio Media
  • Literal Humans
  • Physiquipe

A four-day workweek would also shrink the UK’s emissions by 127 million tonnes.

‘The four-day week isn’t a future dream – it’s the policy we urgently need to boost UK productivity, improve worker well-being and tackle the cost of living crisis,’ Mr Kellam said.

The Worker Rights Consortium, an American monitoring group, added: ‘For decades, we have seen the gains from technological advancement and workers’ rising productivity expended to make the rich richer, not to make workers’ lives better.

‘Adding an additional day of leisure every week is a perfect example of how those gains should be repurposed, and this recent test shows it is feasible.’

And the idea is popular too. A survey conducted by comparison site NerdWallet found 72% of British employees working five or more days per week support it.

The programme is the latest example of firms and governments experimenting with the idea of scaling back workers’ hours while keeping pay the same.

In Iceland, similar trials were considered an ‘overwhelming success’ with 86% of the country’s workforce now having shorter workweeks or gaining the right to.

Dr Harry Pitts, a University of Bristol lecturer specialising in labour rights, said in the world of workers’ rights, a four-day workweek isn’t new.

COVID-19 upended many working conventions, such as having to work in an office (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
COVID-19 upended many working conventions, such as having to work in an office (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘The four-day week stands in the tradition of workers struggling to have more time for more leisure and pleasure,’ he said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, wage increases were prioritised by workers over reductions in working time as soaring standards of living at the time made having pounds in their pockets more important.

But people today are facing the biggest squeeze in living standards for a century as wages fail to keep pace with rising prices.

A four-day-week certainly won’t solve all workers’ woes (not all sectors could adopt it, Dr Pitts warned) but can be done alongside flexible hours and other worktime reduction policies.

Above all, though, Dr Pitts said: ‘We need to give workers power and voice to be able to command the working arrangements to suit them in their sector.’

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