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Dozens of U.K. companies will keep the 4-day workweek after a pilot program ends

A worker pours a pint of beer at London's Pressure Drop Brewery, one of 61 U.K. employers that participated in a six-month trial of a four-day workweek.
Justin Tallis
/
AFP via Getty Images
A worker pours a pint of beer at London's Pressure Drop Brewery, one of 61 U.K. employers that participated in a six-month trial of a four-day workweek.

Updated February 21, 2023 at 5:28 PM ET

Is it finally time for the four-day workweek?

Results from a new pilot program at dozens of employers in the United Kingdom showed major benefits to workers' health and productivity when their hours were reduced — and a vast majority of firms plan to stick with the condensed schedule.

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Advocates say the results help validate the idea that it's possible for companies to shorten the workweek to 32 hours with no reduction in pay while maintaining previous levels of work output.

"We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy, with multiple benefits," David Frayne, a research associate at University of Cambridge who worked on the trial, said in a statement.

"We think there is a lot here that ought to motivate other companies and industries to give it a try," Frayne added.

The pilot program was a collaboration between the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week Campaign in the United Kingdom and the think tank Autonomy.

It included roughly 2,900 workers at 61 companies — from nonprofits, manufacturers and finance firms to even a fish-and-chip shop — and ran from June to December of last year.

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Workers and companies alike reported improvements

While more than half of companies reported switching all their workers to a four-day workweek, employers were only required to give their staff a "meaningful" reduction in hours, which could also include five-day weeks with shorter work days or schedules that varied in length from week to week but averaged out to 32 hours per week over the course of a year.

Largely, workers themselves approved. Employees reported less work-related stress, lower rates of burnout and higher job satisfaction. A majority of employees reported working at a faster pace.

There were physical and mental health benefits — 46% of employees said they were less fatigued — and three in five respondents said it was easier to balance work with care responsibilities at home.

"Results are largely steady across workplaces of varying sizes, demonstrating this is an innovation which works for many types of organisations," said Juliet Schor, a Boston College professor and the project's lead researcher.

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How employees used their spare time differed by the type of work they performed, researchers found. Those who worked in nonprofits and professional services spent more time exercising, while those in construction and manufacturing reported saw the largest declines in burnout and sleep problems, Schor said.

The results also appeared positive from the corporate perspective.

Revenue increased by an average of 1.4% over the study period, according to data from 23 organizations that provided it. Absenteeism fell, and people were less likely to quit during the trial, even though it took place during what's been dubbed the Great Resignation, the authors noted.

Of the 61 companies that took part in the trial, 56 said they would continue offering the four-day workweek for now. Eighteen said they planned to shorten the workweek permanently.

Among them is Tyler Grange, an environmental consulting firm based in England. Managing director Simon Ursell told NPR that the firm invested in technology and stopped doing the "day-to-day rubbish" of certain administrative tasks in order to squeeze the required weekly workload into four days instead of five.

"If you give people an incentive to do something — like a really cool incentive, and it's a money-can't-buy incentive, giving them a whole day a week for the same pay to do what they want to do — that really focuses the mind," he said.

Ursell agreed that a strict four-day workweek may not fit every company's needs, but he urged managers to rethink what is necessary to get the work done.

"I think the real question is: Why five days? I haven't heard anybody give me a reason why we work five days other than tradition," he said. "What I think the trial has proved is that working in a way that is most applicable to your organization to achieve the sweet spot of productivity, the best productivity for the time, that's what you've got to me aiming at."

4 Day Week previously conducted similar trials in the U.S. and Ireland and says it will also release results from pilots in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, North America and elsewhere in Europe.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR
Joe Hernandez