Employment

5 reasons a four-day working week is the future, according to the largest ever trial

The results are in on the biggest ever trial of the four-day working week, with far-reaching effects on wellbeing, sickness and caring

Most people used their third day off to do essential tasks including home and garden maintenance, freeing them up for a more restful weekend. Image: CDC / Unsplash

The results are in on the biggest ever trial of the four-day working week – and they’re overwhelmingly positive. 

Over 2,900 people took part in the six-month trial, which saw companies agree to give staff an extra day off with no cut to pay. 

Almost every employer that took part, ranging from a local chippy to large corporations, an animation studio to digital banking, have decided to continue with the arrangement after the trial ended. At least 56 of the 61 companies that took part are continuing, with 18 making it a permanent change and many more considering doing the same.

The four-day week movement has seen a boom in popularity after the pandemic profoundly impacted people’s ideas of work-life balance, and ushered in a shift towards flexible working.

In October, Labour MP Peter Dowd introduced a bill in parliament that would give every British worker the legal right to a four-day working week. In response to the proposals, Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope said such a policy would be akin to throwing a “hand grenade” into the economy.

Now campaigners have the evidence to back it up.

Calling the trial a “major breakthrough moment”, Joe Ryle, the director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “Across a wide variety of sectors, wellbeing has improved dramatically for staff; and business productivity has either been maintained or improved in nearly every case.”

“Surely the time has now come to begin rolling it out across the country”, he added.

Is the four-day week a solution to some of the problems gripping Britain today? Here’s some of the findings from the biggest ever four-day working week trial, conducted by think tank Autonomy, and we’ll let you decide for yourself.

1. It might just be the antidote to burnout culture

The dominant belief at work has, for a long time, been that the longer you work the more you’ll get done. But is this really true?

Researchers at Future Forum found the percentage of employees who say they are burned out rose 8 per cent globally in the middle of 2022, with women, younger workers and middle managers in particular feeling the strain.

But for those taking part in the four-day week trial, seven in 10 reported lower levels of burnout. 

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The founder of a craft beer brewery said their team was “busier, but less stressed” since giving up the five-day model.

“Being busy doesn’t make you stressed, being out of control is what makes you stressed… I don’t like being bored at work, I like it when there’s an atmosphere of things happening… If we’re busy it means there is a lot of beer going out of the door and things are going well”, they said.

2. It could reduce sick days

There were more working days lost to sickness absence in 2021 than at any time in the past decade.

The government has made it a priority to cut the number of people on long-term sick leave and get them back into work. So much so, that doctors are to be told to sign fewer sick notes, according to the Telegraph. 

But among those taking part in the trial, there was a 65 per cent reduction in the number of sick days taken. 

“In the months following the launch of the trial our sickness levels went down and staff retention levels went up, bucking the trend shown by other similar organisations recently,” said Paul Oliver chief operating officer at Citizens Advice Gateshead.

3. It gives people more time to sort out their “life admin” 

Staff were free to use their third day off each week however they chose, but most told researchers that they used it for “life admin”, referring to essential tasks such as food shopping, attending medical appointments, doing household repairs or cleaning. This then freed up their Saturdays and Sundays for genuine resting and leisure. 

4. Staff on a four-day working week are less likely to quit, even when offered more pay

With recruitment currently a major problem for sectors ranging from caring to construction and healthcare to hospitality, could a four-day week attract, and keep, employees to organisations desperate to hire?

Once they’d shifted to a three-day weekend, there was some serious reluctance to go back to the old way of working. Across the organisations involved, the was a substantial decline in the likelihood an employee would quit, down by 57 per cent.

Even when, hypothetically, tempted by another five-day week role, seven in 10 said they would need to be paid between 10 per cent and 50 per cent more to accept losing their third day off. And for 15 per cent of staff, no amount of money would persuade them back to their former working life.

5. It frees people up to care for our young and ageing population

Britain has a care work crisis. The profession was recently added to the government’s shortage occupation list, which means it will grant work visas to people from overseas to come and plug shortages. With an ageing population – 19.6 per cent of people were aged 65 or over in the 2021 census – the UK needs more paid, or unpaid, carers to look after elderly people. 

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But during the four-day week trial, six in 10 workers said they found an increased ability to combine their work with caring for an elderly relative, person with additional needs or a child.

As well as the costs involved in providing care for elderly people, the cost of childcare is soaring, so much so that some parents have found it cheaper to leave their job altogether than continue working while paying for nursery or a childminder. 

“You have no idea what this will mean to my family – the amount of money we will be able to save on childcare”, said a member of staff at a non-profit organisation to the four-day week researchers.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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