A clock showing a four-day working week

World's biggest four-day working week pilot begins

More than 3,000 workers across 70 companies started a four-day week on full pay this week in the world's biggest pilot scheme looking at productivity and staff wellbeing. The programme is being coordinated by campaign group 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy and academics at Oxford, Cambridge and Boston College in the US.

A range of businesses and charities are taking part, including the Royal Society of Biology, brewery Pressure Drop, Southampton computer game developer Yo Telecom, a Manchester medical devices firm, and a fish and chip shop in Norfolk. 

Staff will be given 100% pay for 80% of their time, but have made a commitment to produce 100% of their usual output.

Allowing people flexibility over the hours they work, and where they work, is increasingly popular. By working flexibly, employees are better able to manage their caring responsibilities, or achieve a better work–life balance.

Critics say the concept would be impossible in customer-facing jobs, or 24/7 operations including where overtime payments would present an extra cost to employers or the taxpayer. A trial of the four-day working week in France, for example, found workers were putting in the same amount of hours even with a day less and companies were having to pay them for their extra time.

Some economists have argued that working fewer hours would decrease the standard of living and the leader of one of Spain's main business associations has previously described it as 'madness'. 

The team of researchers will study each company and assess the impact on staff, including stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use and travel. They will also look at gender equality, with the four-day week thought to benefit women, who make up a higher proportion of part-time and flexible-hours staff. 

Some experts have said a productivity rise may not happen, warning it could lead to more stress as employees attempt to squeeze more work into fewer hours, and leave firms with higher costs.

The pandemic has seen more employees working from home and adopting more flexible hours instead of the usual nine-to-five, five-day working week.

Joe O'Connor, the chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said the country is at the crest of a wave of global momentum behind the four-day week. He said:

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge. The impact of the ‘great resignation’ is now proving that workers from a diverse range of industries can produce better outcomes while working shorter and smarter.”

Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, which is participating in the pilot, said that moving to a four-day week seems like a 'natural step'. He said:

“We have long been a champion of flexible working, but the pandemic really moved the goalposts in this regard. The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business. We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.”

Similar experiments are due to be held in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, while Government-backed trials are starting in Spain and Scotland this week.