For the last several years, companies around the world have experimented with four-day working weeks, reducing working hours without cutting salaries or productivity. Many of these companies have attracted international attention, and have reported great improvements in work-life balance, recruitment, and even revenues and profitability. But anecdotes are not data, as skeptics could point out, and individual successes in one industry or country don’t prove that a shorter working week could work elsewhere.
That’s what makes the recent UK trial so significant. A total of 90 companies – ranging from large charities to small tech startups, from a craft brewery to a fish and chips shop – signed up for the 2022 trial; of those, more than 60 completed a set of surveys administered by a team of researchers led by Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor. For the first time, we have a large cohort of companies trialing the four-day week at the same time, studied using the same tools; but it’s also a diverse set of firms (and some non-profits) working in a variety of sectors. It lets us speak with confidence about the applicability of the four-day week across many industries, and the magnitude of its impact.
Companies didn’t report big increases in revenues or profitability, just a modest average increase of 1.4%. However, other benefits were dramatic enough to inspire companies to rate their overall experience of the trials an 8.5/10.
Some critics worry that a four-day week ratchets up work intensity and put too much pressure on workers. A total of 62% of employees did say that the pace of work had increased during the trial. Nonetheless, 71% said they felt less burned out, and 39% reported feeling less stressed during the trial. Levels of job satisfaction rose from 7.12 to 7.69 (out of 10). Even if the number of hours people had to work fell, their sense of control over their time contributed to a sense of greater time abundance.
People felt a greater abundance of time in their personal and family lives, too. More than half (54%) said it was easier to balance work with household jobs, and 60% said it was easier ot balance paid work and care responsibility – maybe because more men were spending time looking after children. Levels of life satisfaction rose from 6.69 to 7.57 out of 10. More generally, the level of control people felt they had over their time increased, from 3.55 to 3.59 out of 5.
People were healthier, too. 40% said they were sleeping better, and fewer people reported feeling fatigued during the day. Sick days dropped by 65% to 0.7 days/month per employee.
Sounds like a success, right? Certainly the companies and workers in the trial thought so. Just over 90% of companies say they are continuing the four-day week – either making it permanent, or extending their trials for another year. And 15% of workers say that no amount of money would get them to return to a five-day week. They also voted with their feet: turnover went down 57% during the trial.
For people who’ve been studying the four-day week for years, or people at companies that have been doing it for years, none of this will come as any surprise: these results confirm what employees and leaders have been saying for years. And those companies, in turn, give us some clues about some benefits that trial companies might see in a few years. Revisiting companies that I wrote about in my 2020 book Shorter, I see people starting families, and more women remaining in leadership roles or moving up in their organizations, even as their caring responsibilities increase. The four-day week has also made companies more sustainable and their cultures more resilient. Incredibly, none of the hundred firms I wrote about closed during the pandemic.
So what’s next?
More trials in more places: 4 Day Week Global has already committed in 2023 to launching trials in Portugal and Brazil, the United States, and Australia, and are scouting locations in Asia. We’re also working with ever-larger companies, and launching new research projects, as well as continuing the company surveys. For us, the aim is simple: use the four-day week to create a million years of new free time for people, and convince the world that the four-day week should be the future of work. The UK trial clears a path to making both a reality.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is global programs director at 4 Day Week Global