There’s been a lot of talk about the four-day work week over the past year, but not a lot of data.
While the concept of having nearly as many free days as you do at the office seems like a slam dunk, there hadn’t been a lot of real-world studies done to see how workers felt about extending their hours on days they do work and what the overall impact would be on productivity.
Now data is starting to come in, and for the most part, it’s looking like a wildly successful concept.
The United Kingdom is in the midst of the world’s largest pilot program for the four-day work week. The six-month pilot gives the 70 participating companies (and their 3,000 workers) access to expertise, tools and resources to make the transition a smooth one. It follows a multi-year trial in Iceland (2015 to 2019) that found workers were happier, healthier and more productive with a four-day week versus a five-day one.
So far, says think tank Autonomy, which is working with the U.K. and researchers from universities, workers have maintained productivity levels during a four-day week that are exactly the same as they were during a five-day week. And employees say they’re much happier with the schedule and feel that they’re doing better in their jobs.
“I can really enjoy my weekend now because I’ve got my Friday for my chores and my other bits and pieces or… if I just want to take my mum out for a walk, I can do that now without feeling guilty,” Lisa Gilbert, an ethical loans provider, told CNN Business. “[It’s] life changing.”
Workers, in general, say they’re able to spend more time with loved ones and take care of chores without feeling guilty, and productivity levels haven’t been affected at all. Some, though, acknowledge that the early days were chaotic, and it took as much as a month to adapt to the changed working world.
Researchers for the U.K. program intend to measure the impact of the four-day week on a number of factors beyond productivity, including gender equality, the environment and worker well-being. Companies will decide at the end of November whether they will continue with the new schedule.
Some businesses that have done their own test-run of a four-day week, however, didn’t have the same positive experience as those in the U.K.
Los Angeles-based marketing research firm Alter Agents conducted a 10-week experiment with the shorter work week, going from 40 hours over five days to 32 over four. Workers were excited to try it out, but the reality didn’t meet the expectation.
Team members felt like they were constantly playing catch-up and many employees found themselves performing work tasks or answering emails on their extra day off, even though the company had underscored that was not required.
By the end of the trial, employee satisfaction had declined because of the added stress. When the company decided to go back to a five-day schedule, there was no pushback from the workers. The company is currently conducting a pilot of a new program that gives workers one day off a month in addition to the company’s unlimited PTO policy.
While the concept of a four-day work week has become a hot-topic of late, it’s hardly new. The idea was first floated in the early 20th century. When Henry Ford (and eventually, the U.S. Government) switched from a six-day work week to a five-day week one, there were many calls for a four-day week. Those eventually were silenced by critics.
The pandemic reset a lot of thinking about work norms, though, from telecommuting to a hybrid work schedule to the importance of a strong work/life balance. And as a result of those changes, the concept of a four-day work week has managed to push its way back into the spotlight.