Four-day work week trials — first international results!

Many have been talking about a shortened work week for years now—farther back than many might realize. More than a century ago, the 5-day, 40-hour work week was adopted; and since, there’s been discussion about shortening it to a four-day work week. In the early 1930s, British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the work week would shorten within a century to 15 hours per week. According to NPR, a U.S. Senate subcommittee emphasized this in 1965, with a prediction that the work week would dwindle to 14 hours by 2000.

Conversations supporting shortened work week have gained traction

In recent years, the conversation about shortening the work week has gained traction, and COVID helped add fuel to heighten the conversation. COVID showed that individuals can work remotely and remain productive, despite what many employers believed before COVID. And now that remote work is more commonplace, it makes room for the conversation about a reduction in hours per week to ramp up, especially in light of workplace flexibility becoming a requirement to attract and retain talent.

To support a four-day work week there are numerous reports from studies that indicate that employees are only productive for a few hours of an eight-hour work day, and plenty of opinions and reports that point to the theme that employees are more productive when they work fewer hours in a week for the same amount of pay.

However, some question the data from such studies, as it’s not always clear or easy to gauge gains and losses. Still, overall, employees report being at least as productive and sometimes more productive in a shortened work week. This could be due to getting more sleep, which allows for increased productivity, as well as feeling better overall with improved health, both physically and mentally. A four-day work week also requires individuals to focus and prioritize to ensure they complete their work without unnecessary distractions.

Four-day work week international trial results

Now, thanks to co-founders of UK-based 4 Day Week Global, Charlotte Lockhart and Andrew Barnes, there are real results that speak to the validity and value of a four-day work week that’s tied to productivity. The non-profit initiated the four-day work week pilot program where workers reduced their hours to 32 hours per week (reduced by 20%) and were continued to be paid 100% of their pay by the organizations that employed them. It’s the largest trial of its kind, with international subjects. Though many companies were resistant to attempting the trial, 73 companies chose to give it a try. The subject pool was diverse, including consultants, financial firms, recruiters, healthcare companies, IT, and nonprofits.

The first research results to be published from two of the four-day week trials included more than 30 companies and nearly 1,000 employees in the U.S., Australia, and Ireland. The size distribution of organizations included is wide, with one company having more than 400 employees and a little more than half of the companies having ten or fewer employees. The industries covered were broad, with the largest group coming from IT, administrative, and the telecoms sector, the second largest group coming from professional services, and the third largest group being non-profits.

Employers benefit from a reduced hours week

The report, titled Assessing Global Trials of Reduced Work Time with no Reduction in Pay, is authored by independent researchers at Boston College, Cambridge University, and University College Dublin independent of Four Day Week Global that helped fund the trials. The trial was rated a 9.0 out of 10 by participating companies, with 97% of participants stating they want to continue a four-day week with reduced hours and the same pay and zero participants indicating they are against or not planning to continue. The research showed that participating companies appreciated an 8% total rise in revenue during the six-month trial, more than a percentage point each month. Revenue rose by 38% when compared to the same six-month period in 2021.

Workers also rated the pilot well, at a 9.1 out of 10, with 97% wanting to continue with a four-day week. From a monetary perspective, 70% of employees indicated they’d need a job offer that paid 10% to 50% more for them to go back to a five-day work week. One in 10 reported that no amount of money could cause them to return to that schedule.

Another significant finding from the results was that participants didn’t experience an increase in work intensity. This is a positive in that it suggests the success and performance shown weren’t achieved by speedup but by successful preparation and the work re-organization with the companies before the trials commencing.

Employees benefit significantly from a reduced work week

The well-being of employees improved during the trial. A wide range of well-being metrics showed that employees enjoyed significant improvement by the end of the trial. Work-life balance, work-family, positive affect, and physical and mental health all improved, while fatigue, burnout, work-family conflict, and stress all declined. During their days off, employees reported taking care of personal grooming, household work, or spending time on hobbies. Additionally, employees benefited financially from a reduction in the cost of caretaking for children or other dependents by the end of the trial.

Additional considerations for four-day work week trials and a reduced hours week

For the four-day work week trials in the current report, most companies adopted the 32-hour, four-day work week, though some opted for other configurations. This was permissible as long as the reduction in work hours was considered “meaningful.”

It’s hard to deny that the results of the trial indicate that a reduction in work hours for the same amount of pay provides benefits for both the employer and the employee. Still, some argue that, though a reduced work week would likely be beneficial for many, a four-day work week might not be the answer. It often comes down to the company, the industry, the type of work, and the employee’s personal preference. Some employees, for example, might prefer to work fewer hours each day over five workdays, and others might rather work in the evenings or on weekends. Some prefer the structure of a set schedule, whereas others don’t.

Defining productivity also varies between organizations and jobs. For some organizations, as long as the employee’s output is what it needs to be, it doesn’t matter when they work. Another consideration is the type of work—for example, a FedEx driver is considered productive the entire time while on the clock loading and delivering packages. An in-office employee, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily productive the entire time they’re in the office.

As more employers and employees test out the reduced-hour work week, the question is whether it will become the norm, similar to how remote work is now here to stay post-COVID. According to Lockhart, reduced-hour, output-focused working will eventually become the norm. The chances are probable as employees begin asking for more flexibility in their schedule and employers see the benefits of offering it.