Starting a massive 4-day workweek trial in the UK: the biggest ever done

For the lucky thousands, the workweek is now only four days – and they still get paid 100 percent of their usual income to do their jobs, even though they’ve earned a full day of personal time.

Doesn’t it sound too good to be true? It’s not necessarily an impossible dream. This ideal work-week rebalancing should one day become the new normal, if campaigns to achieve a four-day work week continue to gain momentum.

Now, in what is estimated to be the largest four-day-a-week work trial ever conducted, 70 companies and more than 3,300 UK employees are adopting a work-life balance shift, as part of a pilot program to pilot four-day working arrangements for the next six months.

The initiative, led by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global along with other organizations, is jointly run by researchers from the University of Cambridge, Oxford University and Boston College, who will investigate how the four-day week affects workers (among other things).

“We will analyze how employees respond to an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, work-life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel, and many other aspects of life,” says economist and sociologist Juliet. Shore of Boston College, principal investigator on the project.

But it’s not just UK workers who stand to benefit from the four-day move. 4 Day Week Global also conducts pilots in Australia and New Zealand, and the organization recently announced an upcoming trial in the US and Canada, where next month will be the registration deadline, and pilots are expected to begin in October.

Work weeks of four days or alternatively, 35 hours a week have been studied by researchers for years now across a number of international trials, the largest to date being in Iceland with nearly 2,500 participants.

That experience found that reducing employee hours offers several benefits to employees, while not decreasing productivity.

The researchers reported that “many workers expressed that after starting to work fewer hours they felt better, more energetic, and less stressed, increasing their energy for other activities, such as exercise, friends, and hobbies.”

“This had a positive impact on their work.”

This kind of result is how it can make sense for employees to work less time while earning the same amount of money as they normally would. The idea is that simply by having to spend less time working (and having more free time), they will have more energy, engagement and well-being, so they will be more effective and productive in the time they spend at work.

This concept is not just wishful thinking, but a commitment in principle made by employees who participate in these programs, called the 100-80-100 model: that is, workers get 100 percent of their salary, and they work 80 percent of their wages. Time vs. 100 percent productivity.

Another benefit, in theory, is the environment, as research suggests we may be able to reduce our carbon emissions if we reduce our working hours.

“The four-day week is generally considered a triple dividend policy – helping employees, businesses and the climate,” Shore says. “Our research efforts will delve into all of this.”

4 Day Week Global was born after the organizers’ first successful four-day work experience at Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust, which enjoyed the benefits they chose to make the changes permanent.

Company CEO Andrew Barnes said at the time.

“We pay for productivity.”

It remains to be seen if new trials in the UK, Australia and New Zealand (and future pilots in the US/Canada) yield such very promising results, but if they do, we can expect more support to get behind the campaign’s only four-day action.

Some believe the shift may be just a matter of time, echoing modern society’s adoption of the five-day work week in the early decades of the 20th century, which included the abolition of a sixth day of work.

“By moving first we get a lot of advantages,” Paddy Lampros, head of staff and talent at British tech company Sensat, which is involved in the UK trial, told Euronews.

“We’ve seen a little bit more demand, we’ve seen an uptick in sentiment, and we’ve been able to hire more diverse people…When we tie all of these things together, we see a huge advantage in embracing what we think is definitely coming anyway, before anyone else.”

You can find out more about the beta program and the campaign on the worldwide website 4 days a week.

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