86% of companies say they will move to four-day working week in biggest ever trial

Could a four-day working week be the future? It took a step closer to being after a ground-breaking pilot of the four-day working week proved such a success with companies taking part, that 86% said they will retain the new model.

At the half-way point of the six month trial - which organisers say it is the biggest four-day week pilot to take place anywhere in the world - 88% of respondents said it was working well and nine in ten said they would keep the new hours.

But some companies did admit that switching from the ingrained five-day week had not been without its challenges.

More than 3,300 workers at 70 companies began a four-day week with no loss of pay at the beginning of June.

Firms taking part are giving 100% of workers' pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity.

Many workers workers have switched to hybrid working. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

The trial, being run by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with leading think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University, is measuring the impact on productivity and the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.Researchers said the feedback contained "valuable lessons" but that the feedback had been "incredibly encouraging".

Who took part and what feedback did the companies give about the four-day working week?

A wide range of organisations took part in the pilot, from a local chippy to large corporates, and span most sectors - education, workplace consultancy, leadership, personal development, and IT software training, among them.

Results from the companies that responded to the mid-point questionnaire - 41 out of the 70 companies - found:

  • 88% of respondents stated the four-day week is working "well" for their business at this stage in the trial 

  • 46% of respondents say their business productivity has "maintained around the same level", while 34% report that it has "improved slightly", and 15% say it has "improved significantly"

  • 29 said the transition to a four-day week has been "extremely smooth"

  • 86% of respondents stated at this juncture in the trial, they would be "likely" to consider retaining the four-day week policy after the trial period.

Bus during rush hour on a busy Monday morning outside Victoria Station Credit: Press Association

What are the benefits of a four-day working week?

The Covid pandemic accelerated changes to the way we work with more businesses embracing flexible working as employers seek a better work/life balance.

A four-day week has become a much touted alternative working model that, campaigners say, improves productivity, staff retention and employee wellbeing.

According to 4 Day Week, who are campaigning for shorter working weeks, companies with reduced hours of working, self-report large reductions in sick days along with increases in productivity, higher talent attraction and retention, deeper customer engagement, and improved employee health.

Microsoft Japan saw a 40% gain in employee satisfaction and productivity during their trial of a 4 Day Week. Bolt, which has gone permanent with its 4 Day Week found that 86% of staff increased their productivity and efficiency.

In Iceland, four-day working week trials were considered an "overwhelming success" with 86% of the country’s workforce now working shorter hours or gaining the right to shorten their hours.

What did those companies taking part say?

Sharon Platts, Chief People Officer for Outcomes First Group, one of the organisations taking part said the four-day week pilot had been "transformational".

"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," Ms Platts said.

A four-day working week could improve productivity, campaigners say. Credit: Pexels

Nicci Russell, Managing Director of Waterwise, said the pilot initially involved a learning curve, admitting it "wasn't a walk in the park at the start".

"We have all had to work at it - some weeks are easier than others and things like annual leave can make it harder to fit everything in - but we're much more settled with it now overall than we were at the start."

What can the pilot tell us about the future of the four-day week?

Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, said the organisations taking part were "laying the foundation for the future of work by putting a four-day week into practice".

 “We are learning that for many it is a fairly smooth transition and for some there are some understandable hurdles – especially among those which have comparatively fixed or inflexible practices, systems, or cultures which date back well into the last century," he said. 

 “While for most organisations the pilot prompts many pleasing discoveries and outcomes – a lot of businesses have more flexibility and nimbleness among their people and teams that leaders often know at the outset – there is friction for others, and this can be based on a variety of factors, many of which can be addressed or substantially improved in the pilot itself.

"4 Day Week Global and our partners are supporting these businesses to ease their transition to a flexible work model, and using the findings to inform the process for many more businesses to trial, adapt, and reap the benefits of emphasising productivity over time – thereby transforming the world of work for all of us.”