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A six month test with four-day week

Almost all companies in four-day week test continue with short week

The pandemic made many companies accept staffers working from home. Now, a large test of a four-day week shows that 92% of companies participating have decided to continue with the shorter work week. 61 UK companies, many of them in the digital sector including software, participated in the test by think tank Autonomy including specialists from the University of Cambridge and Boston College in the US.

Of the 61 companies, 56 are continuing with the four-day week with 18 saying the policy is a permanent change, a report from the project shows.

Highlights from the report:

  • The vast majority of companies were satisfied that business performance and productivity was maintained
  • Over the six-month trial period, stress and burnout for employees both significantly declined with 71% of employees reporting lower levels of burnout
  • Reported levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both experienced improvements.
  • Measures of work-life balance improved. Respondents found it easier to balance their work with both family and social commitments, and were more satisfied with their household finances, relationships and how their time was being managed.
  • Other key business metrics showed signs of positive effects. Companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same, rising by 1.4% on average.
  • There was a substantial decline (57%) in the likelihood that an employee would quit, dramatically improving job retention.
  • There was a 65% reduction in the number of sick days
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Organisations that took part in the pilot trialled a four-day week with no loss of pay for employees.

Participating companies provide products and services ranging from education to workplace consultancy; banking; care; financial services; IT software training; professional development and legal training; housing; automotive supply services; online retail; sustainable homecare; skincare; animation studios; building and construction recruitment services; food and beverage and hospitality; digital marketing; and comprehensive case management services for people recovering from traumatic injury.

Around 2,900 employees, 62% identifying as women, took part in the six-month trial overall, which kicked off at the beginning of June 2022.

In the trial, the time men spent looking after children increased by more than double that of women (27% to 13%), but the share of housework between these two genders stayed almost exactly the same (68% reporting no change for men and women).

In some cases, the four-day week was described by senior managers as a rational business response to the Covid pandemic. Several cited the idea of the ‘Great Resignation’, or described significant difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff since Covid. In these cases, the four-day week was seen as a way to attract talent and give the company a competitive edge in the post-Covid labour market. 

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Among measures to improve efficiency when working four days per week are mentioned:

  • Reforming the norms around meetings, making them shorter, less frequent, and with clearer agendas and objectives. 
  • Reforming email etiquette, encouraging staff to be more attentive to the purpose of their messages and who needs to be involved. 
  • Asking staff to analyse and time each step of the manufacturing process, to identify ways to save time and develop a new set of production targets. 
  • Introducing a ‘heads down’ or ‘focus’ period – a designated time of day for staff to conduct independent work uninterrupted. 
  • Automating aspects of work (for example, introducing auto-filling reports, email templates or automating certain aspects of customer service). 
  • Adopting new project management software, or consolidating internal communications and documents into a single piece of software. 
  • Reorganising calendars to promote ‘monotasking’, eliminating the time wasted on switching between tasks. 
  • Creating a task-list before leaving work, in order to hand over to colleagues or hit the ground running on the following day. 
  • Reducing the number of staff involved in a particular process.
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