Four-Day Workweek Experiment in UK Shows Positive Early Returns
Workspan Daily
September 30, 2022
Key Takeaways

  • Positive early returns. At the halfway point of a four-day workweek experiment in the UK, most participating organizations are reporting no loss of productivity.  
  • A better work-life balance. Some leaders of companies in the trial said the four-day week had given employees more time to exercise, cook, spend time with their families and take up hobbies, boosting their well-being and making them more energized and productive when they were on the clock.  
  • An uphill battle in the U.S. Workplace experts remain dubious as to whether a four-day workweek will be embraced in the U.S. However, a heightened focus on well-being and managing burnout in a post-pandemic world could make it more appealing for some employers.  

Halfway through a pilot four-day workweek program in the United Kingdom, a survey of participating organizations found most report no loss of productivity, with some indicating a significant improvement. 

The six-month pilot program, which launched in June includes 73 organizations that agree to give their employees a paid day off each week. The program is organized by two nonprofit groups — 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign — and Autonomy, an organization that studies the impact of labor on well-being. 

The program is one of the largest to date and includes more than 3,300 employees in various industries, according to Jack Kellam, a researcher at Autonomy.  

Early Returns Are Encouraging  

In the survey of program participants, all but two of the 41 responding companies said productivity had stayed the same or improved; six organizations said productivity had significantly improved. 

Their early experiences were positive enough that 35 of the 41 responding companies said they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider continuing a four-day workweek after the program ends. 

“We are learning that for many it is a fairly smooth transition and for some there are some understandable hurdles — especially among those that have comparatively fixed or inflexible practices, systems or cultures which date back well into the last century,” said Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global.  

Some leaders of companies in the trial said the four-day week had given employees more time to exercise, cook, spend time with their families and take up hobbies, boosting their well-being and making them more energized and productive when they were on the clock. 

“The four-day week [pilot] has been transformational for us so far,” said Sharon Platts, Chief People Officer for Outcomes First Group. “We've been delighted to see productivity and output increase and have also been able to make it work in our education and care services, which we thought would be far more challenging. While it's still early days, our confidence in continuing beyond the trial is growing and the impact on colleague wellbeing has been palpable.” 

More Positive Results, But Also Doubts 

While the UK experiment is top of mind at the moment, comparable experiments with shorter workweeks have been tested across the globe. A Swedish experiment in 2016 had organizations reduce their employees’ workday to six hours for the same level of pay and saw productivity increases. And U.S. companies such as Microsoft, Kickstarter and Monograph have experimented or implemented a four-day workweek for segments of the workforce.  

Despite the positive results seen in some studies so far, many experts doubt a four-day workweek will ever catch on in the U.S., due to different expectations around work. 

A WorldatWork pulse poll from June showed reluctance among U.S. employers, with 75% of respondents saying their organization was not considering implementing a four-day workweek. The top barriers included management not being onboard (52%), business needs being missed (47%) and the inability to fairly implement a four-day workweek across roles (39%). 

“Innovative rewards approaches help employers to differentiate themselves but typically employers want to do so in a manner that manages and controls risk to business operations,” said Alicia Scott-Wears, director of total rewards content at WorldatWork. 

Critics of the UK program express concerns that a four-day workweek might increase costs and reduce competitiveness, a troubling prospect given that that many European companies are already lagging rivals in other regions

Anthony Smith, COO of Atlas, an HR technology platform, said he sees positive results of the four-day workweek for both employees and the organization.  

“Having well-rested and engaged people will always drive business performance and outcomes,” he says. “A shortened week also creates a focus on driving greater efficiency across the organization.” 

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