92% of UK companies that examined the 4-day workweek select to make it everlasting

According to a study by the University of Groningen, if you lived in the 19th century and worked in manufacturing, you would expect to work 60 to 90 hours a week. Luckily things are looking a bit brighter these days. While working weeks vary across the EU – France is known to have a 35-hour week – European employees generally cannot work more than 48 hours a week, including overtime.

That means we now work between 50% and 125% less than we did in the 18th century – and the better news is that workers’ working conditions have continued to improve.

Weekly working hours decreased after World War I when US automaker Henry Ford introduced the 5-day, 40-hour week in 1926. She prevailed and is the foundation upon which most contemporary workers have built their careers.

But now times are changing – again.

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Thanks to advocacy platforms like 4-Day Week Global and think-tank Autonomy, and the sea change that remote work has brought about during the pandemic, we may consider another radical change in the way we work.

As early as the 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would eventually lead to a 15-hour workweek. Although his prediction has not (yet) come true, the results of the world’s largest four-day workweek study were recently released, showing overwhelmingly positive results.

The study took place in the UK from June to December 2022 and saw 61 companies employing around 2,900 people adopt a four-day week and adopt 4-Day Week Global’s 100-80-100 model – 100% of wages for 80% of wages time in exchange for the commitment to deliver 100% of the work.

Definitely want to continue

The results speak for themselves: 92% of the participating organizations continue with a four-day work week, another 4% tend to continue and only 4% of the participants definitely do not continue. Additionally, 90% of employees said they definitely want to keep working four days a week.

Other achievements included an average 1.4% increase in revenue during the trial, and compared to a similar period in previous years, organizations reported an average 35% increase in revenue.

In addition, employee attrition decreased by 57% and 55% of workers reported improving their skills on the job. Fifteen percent said no amount of money would make them accept a five-day schedule at their next job.

UK-based Everledger, Manchester-based Evolution Money, Kent-based Charity Bank and Liverpool-based Stellar Asset Management all took part in the recent trial. As part of a previous 2021 study, Atom Bank – a branch-free bank designed for smartphones – was the UK’s largest company at the time and the first UK bank to test a four-day week.

The move resulted in Atom’s team transitioning to a 34-hour work schedule with no loss of pay. “It is clear that it was a great success for our company and our employees. We are very proud of how our people have adapted and the benefits this has brought to so many,” said Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer at Atom Bank.

Atom found that 91% of employees said they were able to get everything done in four days, and the bank also noted that their operational productivity increased. It’s a good indicator of other companies that might follow suit. “We believe most companies can make the transition to a four-day work week, and we hope Atom’s experience will encourage more companies to make the transition permanent,” Lister said.

Not for everyone

While a four-day workweek may seem like a great idea at first, it’s not something that can work for all industries or all companies. Many manufacturing roles, service jobs, or purely customer-facing roles may not find it practical.

Of the 61 companies that took part in the most recent study, Professor Juliet Schor of Boston College, the study’s lead researcher, points out that “results are largely consistent across workplaces of different sizes, showing that this is an innovation that works for many types of business organizations.”

But getting there can be a headache. Transitioning takes a tremendous amount of commitment to shift a company culture to a 100-80-100 model and can lead to stress, burnout, disconnection and scheduling conflicts. Businesses also need to decide what works best for them: reduced daily hours for all employees, or Mondays or Fridays for fixed teams to ensure business continuity throughout the workweek.

Rethinking priorities must be at the beginning of any discussion about moving to a four-day workweek. Organizations – and workers – need to look at the optimal end goal and then work backwards to see how it can be achieved with reduced hours.

Scheduling fewer meetings can be a way to buy back time. For example, all public sector employees in Iceland work 35 hours, which was achieved by cutting meetings in favor of email.

Australia has also just joined the concept and its government has issued a recommendation stating: “The committee recommends that the Australian government conduct a four day trial per week based on the 100:80:100 model […]. The experiment should be carried out in different sectors and in different geographical locations.”

It’s clear that despite the challenges, there’s an appetite for new ways of working – whether it’s in terms of giving employees full flexibility to run their day or shifting an entire organization to a four-day workweek.

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