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More than 3,300 workers at 70 British companies, ranging from small consultancies to large financial firms, have started working a four-day week with no loss of pay in what organizers of the program call the world’s biggest trial of a shorter workweek.
The pilot program, which launched on June 6 and will run for six months, is organized by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, with offices in London and New York City, in partnership with the London-based thinktank Autonomy, the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.
The researchers will analyze how employees respond to having an extra day off, studying areas such as stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use and travel.
Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said the pilot programs puts the UK at the forefront of the four-day week movement. “As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing 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,” he told The Guardian.
On June 6, O’Connor tweeted, “This is a historic day, as the lives of over 3,000 workers and their families are transformed by the pioneering, forward-thinking approach of their firms to embrace a new approach to how we organize work.”
Shorter Workweek Options
Participating employers in the pilot program agreed to adjust working hours to accord with one of the following options:
4 Day Week Global said it advocates for a “100-80-100” model: 100 percent of pay for workers, who put in 80 percent of their traditional working time, in exchange for maintaining 100 percent of their productivity, according to the group’s website.
Weighing Pros and Cons
The British pilot program follows several other shorter workweek trials in different countries. “Trials by big companies such as Microsoft in Japan and Buffer in the U.S. have shown that a four-day week boosts productivity,” the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign posted on its website.
“For the next 6 months more than 3,000 UK workers will enjoy the equivalent of a standard bank holiday every single week,” the group tweeted. “And the best thing about it? This could be the future of work for everyone.”
But maybe not. An article in the Harvard Business Review recently pointed out that a study of New Zealand’s move to the four-day workweek found that “not only was work intensified following the change, but so too were managerial pressures around performance measurement, monitoring and productivity,” according to the article’s authors, researchers Emma Russell at the University of Sussex, Caroline Murphy at the University of Limerick and Esme Terry at Leeds University.
“The New Zealand four-day workweek trial rings some alarm bells in that reductions in working days did not necessarily create well-being benefits as workers struggled to meet the demands of their job roles,” the researchers noted. “It is perhaps telling that much of the publicity around the success of Microsoft Japan’s four-day workweek trial rested on how productivity increased substantially during the study period. Employers may need to be careful about promoting outputs over well-being if they want to be seen as investing in their workforce’s work-life balance.”
Still, there is ample evidence that many employees and job candidates would favor the move to a four-day workweek.
Employees Want Flexibility
Ladders, a San Francisco based recruitment firm for executives and professionals, recently surveyed more than 400 job candidates who are active on its search service platform and found that 79 percent said they have already left or would leave a five-day workweek job for a four-day workweek job, provided there is no drop in salary.
“While this strongly indicates an edge in hiring for employers that offer four-day workweeks, nothing is set in stone,” said Ladders CEO Dave Fisch.
The decision to try a shorter workweek should be made after “a careful weighing of the pros and cons for their businesses,” he advised.
However, employers that don’t pursue a shorter workweek may want to “consider other flexible options, or they may find themselves struggling to keep and replace talented people going forward,” Fisch said.
Flexible Schedules as an Alternative
Alicia Garcia, chief culture officer at MasterControl, a global technical support company based in Salt Lake City, favors greater flexibility around scheduled hours as an alternative to shorter workweeks.
“The biggest issue with a four-day workweek is that it is still rigid,” she said. Whether it is a four- or five-day workweek, “the exact days and times employees are required to work are fixed.”
When approached by employees, she said, “the most common request is for ‘flexibility.’ They ask if they can pick up children from school every day and log back in, take an afternoon exercise class, or take a break when the day is feeling stressful. Rarely does the number of hours an employee works surface in these discussions.”
She added, “doctor appointments, dentist visits and school performances don’t always fall on the same day of the week.”
Garcia advised companies to trust employees to schedule flexibility into their workweek. “Supervisors and managers know if work is getting done and getting done well. They should be empowered to allow flexibility in their teams,” she said. “By developing a culture where managers are trusted to make the best decisions and, in turn, trust their teams to ensure work is covered, companies can develop future senior leaders and recruit the best talent in the market.”