Four-day working week trial launches in the UK

Previous trials have found shorter working weeks boosted wellbeing.

A trial of a four-day week has launched in the UK in a bid to measure whether employees are more productive with longer weekends.

There has been much debate for years over the benefits of a shorter working week and it appears more businesses are now willing to take the plunge, as the Covid-19 pandemic shifts the global work model perhaps for good.

Around 30 UK companies are taking part in a six-month trial of a four-day week, where employees will be paid the same amount as if they were working their usual five days.

The pilot scheme - run by the 4 Day Week campaign, think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College - will measure whether employees can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time.

Similar trials run by 4 Day Week Global are also taking place this year in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, while the Scottish and Spanish governments also launch pilots this month.

Joe O’Connor, pilot programme manager for 4 Day Week Global, believes 2022 "will be the year that heralds in this bold new future of work".

He added: "More and more businesses are moving to productivity focused strategies to enable them to reduce worker hours without reducing pay.

"We are excited by the growing momentum and interest in our pilot programme and in the four-day week more broadly.

"The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’, to a sharper focus on the output being produced."

Commuters crossing London Bridge during rush hour Credit: PA

As part of the pilot, researchers will work with each participating organisation to measure productivity, the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

Numerous studies have suggested that moving to a four-day week boosts productivity and workers’ wellbeing.

The world's largest ever trial in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 was recently hailed as an "overwhelming success", while in Japan, a trial at Microsoft saw productivity went up by 40%, according to researchers.

ITV News previously spoke to business owners who made the switch and have never looked back, with one Edinburgh restaurant, Aizle, reporting their best financial year after cutting back a day, a huge boost in employees' morale and better staff retention.

Graham Alcott, whose firm Think Productive in Brighton and Hove morphed the five-day week into four extended weekdays and one Friday in four, said "it's actually enhanced the business rather than held it back."

ITV News previously asked business owners who have shortened their working week how they did it and why it's working for them

"What we've found over the last few years is that our people don't burn out, we have a really good rate of growth within the business and for me that's because of the four-day week," he told ITV News.

At box making firm Belmont Packaging in Wigan, Wales, owner Kate Hulley introduced a "compressed week", where workers do 38 hours across Monday to Thursday.

She told ITV Cymru Wales that since introducing the changes in 2019 things have been "going really well".

"The staff can make personal appointments on a Friday and we're more focussed between Monday to Thursday. As a business, we can get our outsourcing engineering crews in on a Friday so that we're ready to start again on the Monday.

"It's a win-win for staff and the company."

Brendan Burchell, professor in social sciences at Cambridge University which is part of the trial's research team, said: “With the social and environmental benefits of the shorter working week becoming clearer, grassroots support more widespread, and technology available to maintain productivity, the time has come for more organisations to take the leap and unravel the practicalities.

“This scheme has tremendous potential to progress from conversations about the general advantages of a shorter working week to focussed discussions on how organisations can implement it in the best possible way.”