International research suggests that a shorter working week can be much healthier for employees, with no loss of productivity. So why hasn’t it become the norm?
The COVID pandemic saw a lot of conventions and expectations around work up-ended, with people spending more time at home, and questioning the burnout culture which has come to dominate many industries. One of the beneficiaries has been the idea of a shorter working week, which is steadily moving from the fringes to the mainstream.
Internationally, this movement has been spearheaded by the UK-based not-for-profit community organisation 4 Day Week Global, which has been gaining momentum since its inception in 2018. Experimental six month trials of the four day working week (with no loss of pay for employees) have now been conducted in many countries and work places.
A recent UK trial involving 61 companies in which employees were given a paid day off each week has been a resounding success, with 90% of the companies choosing to pursue the idea beyond the trial period, showing it’s a win-win for employers and employees.
This trial was conducted across a range of industries and firm sizes, including restaurants, construction, financial and high-tech firms, with 2,900 employees surveyed.
The results of this latest trial included a 71% drop in feelings of burnout for employees, a 65% reduction in sick days, and a slight overall rise in revenue, with most employers saying they were satisfied that productivity was maintained.
This comes on the back of earlier research that suggests long hours frequently mask lack of useful work, with employees unable to concentrate properly or get as much done once they reach natural human limits.
Benefits to home life, including relationships with children and partners, are also greatly improved under a four day working week, with knock-on improvements to health, gender equality, aged care and the environment, as well as socio-economic benefits for society at large.
Some companies took Fridays off, while others left it up to teams and individuals to choose which day should become a paid a holiday.
Analysis of the trial from Cambridge University and Boston College academics suggested that office and IT workers got more time to exercise under the four day trial, while manual workers were less prone to burnout and sleep problems.
Only eight per cent of UK firms in the latest trial decided to abandon the four day week experiment, for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t seem to work as well for very new companies and organisations.
For most people and companies though, there appears to be no downside to a four day week. With six day working weeks being the norm in the past in many places, 4 Day Week Global say four days is the logical next step.