World's biggest trial of four-day week hailed as 'major breakthrough' by Cambridge researchers

Four-day working week is hailed a 'major breakthrough' Credit: PA News

The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a “major breakthrough” after most companies involved said they will keep to the shorter week following the pilot.

The findings of the pilot scheme will be presented to MPs later on Tuesday as campaigners urge lawmakers to give every British worker a 32-hour working week.

The trial saw 61 companies across a variety of sectors in the UK commit to reducing their working hours for all staff by 20%, for six months from June last year.

Crucially, the firms had to make sure there was no reduction in wages for their staff. At least 56 out of the 61 firms that took part said they plan to continue with the four-day working week, while 18 firms confirmed the policy has become a permanent change.

Just three companies said they have paused the four-day working week in their organisation for the time being.

The research was carried out by the University of Cambridge and the US’s Boston College.

Among the findings from the trial were:

  • Around 39% of the 2,900 staff who took part said they were less stressed compared with the start of the trial

  • The number of sick days taken during the trial dropped by around two thirds.

  • There was a 57% drop in the number of staff leaving the participating companies compared with the same period the previous year.

  • Levels of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and burnout decreased substantially, while more staff reported that balancing care responsibilities had become easier.

  • The results even found that company revenue increased slightly by 1.4% on average over the trial period, and by a much higher 35% when compared to the same six-month period in 2021.

5 Squirrels, a Brighton-based skincare brand, which will continue its four-day working week said the trial, had “worked across the board” and significantly increased its team's productivity.

The company cut meetings back to a bare minimum, and ensured any that do get scheduled were limited to 30 minutes and at certain time periods.

Chief executive Gary Conroy said: “What we found actually was that projects didn’t take nearly as long as we thought they would, because it was the disruption and distraction that was stretching out the length of time the project would take.”

“Our productivity is up, our profitability is up, our sales are up, our output is up, you know, in less time.

“So why would you go back to dragging it out into another day? It’s really counterintuitive.”

Dr David Frayne, a research associate at the University of Cambridge, said: “We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits.”

However, several staff at one large company reported concerns about increasing workloads, finding their work intensified or they were battling to work through lengthy to-do lists in the time available.

The results also revealed that some managers and staff felt the focus on efficiency had made the workplace less sociable.

Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said the trial is “major breakthrough moment” for the campaign towards a shorter working week.

Most companies involved will carry on with a four-day week Credit: PA News

“Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, 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," he said.

Organisations across a range of industries took part - from digital marketing companies to a fish and chip shop.

Most firms chose to give all their staff Fridays off, while some said they could take Monday or Friday, and others opted for no common day off among staff.

Environmental advice firm Tyler Grange was among the companies to take part.

Client director Nathan Jenkinson said: "We come into work on a Monday and we’re all firing on all cylinders. We’re ready to go, very up for work, and you can tell, and I certainly feel, that I actually have (had) time to switch off."Digital bank Atom moved all staff to a four-day working week back in November 2021, with no change in salary.

The lender, which has a team of more than 470 people, became the largest UK business and the first UK bank to do so.

It said it has been an “overwhelmingly positive” experience for employees, resulting in increased productivity and job satisfaction and a surge in applications for jobs at the bank.

Anne-Marie Lister, head of people at the bank, said: “Since moving to the new working structure in November 2021, we have not only seen a happier, healthier, more productive workforce, but also a welcome rise in applications for roles at Atom, while also hitting record high customer service metrics and significant business milestones.”

The researchers insisted the results show the four-day week is “ready to take the next step from experimentation to implementation”.

The four-day week has already won political support. Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South said a reduced working week would be a way of "helping the country recover and creating a better future post-Covid 19".