From burnout to bliss: UK trial shows benefits of four-day work week
Imagine a world where you only had to work four days a week, but still got paid the same amount. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, for 61 organisations in the UK, this dream became a reality as they embarked on a major six-month trial of a reduced working week, with astonishing results.
From June 2022, these companies committed to a 20% reduction in working hours for all staff, while retaining full-time productivity targets. The trial, organized by 4 Day Week Global in conjunction with the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign, involved companies from various industries, ranging from online retailers and financial service providers to animation studios and even a local fish-and-chip shop.
The results of the trial were nothing short of remarkable. According to a report presented to UK lawmakers, 71% of employees self-reported lower levels of "burnout", and 39% said they were less stressed compared to the start of the trial. Sick days decreased by a staggering 65%, and the number of staff leaving participating companies fell by 57% compared to the same period the previous year. In fact, company revenue barely changed during the trial period, with some companies even reporting a marginal increase of 1.4% on average.
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"We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits," said Dr David Frayne, a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge.
The positive impact of the four-day work week extended beyond just reduced stress and increased wellbeing. Employees reported improved work-life balance, with 60% finding it easier to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reporting it easier to combine work with social life. Companies also reported increased productivity as employees sought out efficiency gains, such as shorter meetings and the use of technologies to improve productivity.
Interestingly, many senior managers cited the pandemic as a catalyst for embracing the four-day work week. Some saw it as a way to attract talent in the post-Covid job market, while others felt a moral responsibility towards their employees who had gone through health problems and bereavement during the pandemic.
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But it wasn't just the pandemic that prompted companies to consider shorter working hours. The CEO of a video game studio participating in the trial pointed to high-profile examples of "crunch and burnout" in their industry as a reason for their involvement. It seems that the concept of a four-day work week was gaining traction even before the pandemic, as companies sought to address demanding and emotionally draining work environments.
The trial also showcased a variety of ways in which companies implemented the four-day work week. Some companies opted for a complete shutdown for a three-day weekend, while others staggered reduced work hours over a week. One restaurant even calculated their 32-hour week over an entire year, with longer opening times in the summer and shorter hours in the winter.
While some companies attached strings to the reduced hours, such as fewer holiday days or conditional four-day weeks tied to performance targets, the overall sentiment among participating companies was resoundingly positive. In fact, 92% of companies that took part in the trial expressed intentions to continue with the four-day working week, with 18 companies confirming the change as permanent.
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Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, called the results a "major breakthrough moment" for the idea of shorter working weeks. "Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, these incredible results show that the four-day week actually works."
So, could a four-day work week become the new norm in the UK? With the success of this major trial, it seems that the idea of working less while maintaining productivity and