Between June and December last year, around 2,900 workers enjoyed an extra day off every week as part of the biggest trial of the four-day-work week in the UK.
The test saw 61 companies adopt a ‘100-80-100’ model, where employees would work 80% of their regularly scheduled hours but receive 100% of the pay while delivering 100% of the normal output. How the firms used the model was up to them, with some opting for a condensed week while others let staff choose their four days.
The results of the four-day week trial
Now the pilot has come to an end, the positive results mean that the vast majority of the firms involved, which included marketing agencies, brewers, retailers and banks, will continue to benefit from a shorter working week. Fifty-six of the 61 companies which completed the trial plan to continue with the four-day week at least in the short term, with 18 of those committing to making the change permanent.
Interviews with the participants suggest that the shorter work week had a positive impact on their work/life balance. Some 71% reported lower levels of burnout, 60% were better able to manage their caring responsibilities and 62% found it easier to balance their work and social life. Each employee has been using their additional day off for a range of activities, from basic life administration, to volunteering at animal shelters, playing golf or taking a recently-bereaved grandparent out on day trips.
But crucially, the business outcomes were unimpacted and, in many cases, actually improved. On average, participating businesses’ revenues increased by 1.4% over the trial period and were up 35% on the previous year. Meanwhile, staff retention, recruitment and absenteeism also improved. Across the 61 companies, resignations per 100 employees went down from two to 0.8 and the number of sick days taken reduced by 65%.
Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign which organised the trial, claims the results represent a “major breakthrough moment” for the four-day-week movement. He adds: “These incredible results show that the four-day week with no loss of pay really works. Surely the time has now come to begin rolling it out across the country.”
Why the four-day week worked for businesses
Initially, 70 companies planned to participate in the scheme, however nine dropped out, citing a lack of time to prepare, difficulties measuring performance, struggles with the great resignation and two companies who decided shorter working hours were not right for them. For most of the businesses involved, however, the experience has been a positive one.
Gary Conroy, co-founder and CEO of cosmetics company 5 Squirrels, says the trial has been “a great success for us, both commercially and culturally”. He claims that, since the start of the experiment, productivity has increased, staff and customers are happier, the amount of sick leave taken has dropped and the business has been able to attract higher-quality candidates. Revenue is also up 40% and, as a result, the business has made the change to a four-day week permanent.
Online gift store Bookishly is also writing the four-day week into staff contracts. Its director Louise Verity has enjoyed dividing her working week into two-day “mini-weeks” by taking Wednesdays off. “People are really feeling the benefit from rebalancing their working life and home life,” she says.
Although the business only has a small team of 10, it has still noticed an improvement in productivity. Although the change to a shorter week has meant the company had to introduce stricter rules around taking time off, Verity says the adjustment has “definitely been worth it to maintain the four-day week”.
Other businesses have noted the benefits the four-day week has brought to recruitment, particularly at a time when vacancy rates and competition for talent is high. For example, environmental consultancy Tyler Grange has reported an 88% increase in applications since moving to a four-day week.
Its managing director Simon Ursell adds: “We’re also delighted to report that we’re making 21% fewer car journeys each month. Reduced mileage and commuting bring with them cost savings, which are currently at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and colleagues are also reporting significant reductions in their childcare costs.”
How Louise is benefiting from the four-day week
Louise* is a consumer advisor for Citizen’s Advice Gateshead. Since the charity transitioned to a four-day week, she has reported feeling more energised at work and has used the extra time to visit her new partner in Scotland and support her daughter.
The benefits and challenges of the four-day week
Despite making such a fundamental change, some participants noted that staff very quickly adjusted to the new working pattern and have grown accustomed to the benefits it’s brought. Results from the trial show that 78% of employees would require a higher salary to return to a five-day schedule, while 15% said no amount of money would persuade them to abandon the four-day week.
This was something that digital mapping startup Sensat was aware of when it entered the pilot. “When we first undertook the trial we realised that it would be a pretty difficult incentive to do a 180 on,” says its people partner Sophie Martin.
During the trial period, the startup successfully raised its Series B funding, an achievement which Martin claims “speaks volumes as to what we have been able to achieve without needing to work on Fridays”. She adds: “Individuals come to work feeling well-rested and energised on a Monday and people are able to bring their best selves to work because of it.”
The business did have to make some adjustments during the transition. Bank holidays proved a particular challenge, according to Martin. “There were a few times when we were trying to cram four days’ work into three and teams were finding that more stressful,” she says. Following feedback, Sensat made the decision to still work four days on these weeks.
Monthly activities have also been introduced, as staff reported missing their usual time together after work on a Friday and boundaries were also set around expectations to work on days off. “We are clear that if someone wants to tie up loose ends on a Friday they cannot be reliant on the rest of the team doing the same,” she adds. “This was a really important measure towards making the four-day week work properly. Now that everyone is used to it, the team can properly switch off for that extra day.”
The results of the UK’s four-day-week experiment add to the growing body of evidence that shows that a shorter work week can be beneficial to both employees and the businesses they work for. Those involved in the trial hope that the results will motivate other companies to give the four-day week a try.