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Results are in for biggest 4-day work week trial ever: 92% sticking with it

Struggling to keep staff? Pilot brings huge dive in attrition, sick leave

The massive British trial of a shortened four-day work week is over – and it's food for thought for companies battling to attract and keep high value employees as one of the side effects was a large drop in staff attrition.

Most of the companies involved said they would continue offering a shorter week. Of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the four-day week (92 percent), although only a subset of 18 companies would commit to the policy becoming a permanent change.

The crucial point of the pilot, in which 3,000 UK-based employees participated, was that no one's salaries changed, nor were they required to work extended hours, the so-called "4×10 schedule" (four 10-hour shifts) tested by Atlassian and others.

The UK trial took place over a period of six months from June to December last year, with thousands of workers across 61 companies working for four days instead of five with no loss of pay, among them workers from Canon's UK arm.

The British trial – said to be the biggest of its kind – was run by Autonomy (the British think tank, not the software company controversially acquired by HP), Boston College in the US, the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the campaign groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK. 4 Day Week Global, a multinational nonprofit, is running pilot programs in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and offers support to those considering the shift.

One of the key takeaways from the experiment lines up with previous research from 4 Day Week Global, which found 63 percent of businesses surveyed found it easier to attract and retain employees after switching to a four-day work week.

According to the report, the positive effects of a four-day week were worth more than their weight in cash (although The Reg must reiterate that this was a survey response, never tested by cold hard reality). Some of the staffers who participated in the British trial provided some anecdotal evidence, with 15 percent saying "no amount of money" would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week to which they were now accustomed. But the results themselves tallied with this. According to a report penned by 4 Day Week UK, the number of staff leaving participating companies decreased "significantly," dropping by 57 percent over the trial period.

Marcus Beaver, UKI Country Leader at Alight Solutions, commented: "We knew that the four-day work week would increase employee happiness and reduce burnout – now we have the proof that it has tangible business benefits. It's clear that it's not about cramming more work in fewer days. It's about producing better results with the days we're given.

"Companies depend on their staff, and with boosted productivity and profits, the system clearly benefits employees and employers."

wfh with cat

Most Londoners would quit before they give up working from home


Company revenue also stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4 percent on average, weighted by company size, across respondent organizations. When compared to a similar period from previous years (the trial took place in the second half of the year), organizations reported revenue increases of 35 percent on average, 4 Day Week UK said.

Although pandemic-linked tensions around Working From Home and Return To Office policies have increased of late, interest in the four-day work week predated COVID-19.

For example, in August 2019, Microsoft Japan rolled out a project it dubbed "Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019", giving its entire 2,300-person workforce five Fridays off in a row without decreasing pay.

Having a shorter work week apparently led to more efficient meetings, and reportedly boosted productivity by a whopping 40 percent, the company concluded at the end of the trial.

In a Register poll last year, more than 8 in 10 readers supported a four-day work week.

The Workforce Institute conducted a survey in 2018, where 78 percent of full-time workers said it would take less than seven hours each day to do their job if they could work uninterrupted, with nearly half (45 percent) saying their job should take less than five hours per day. However, one could argue that collaborating with colleagues is part of work life, so while doing away with "interruptions" might consolidate the workday, it might also undermine the raison d'être for companies being more than just a one-person show... What do you think? ®

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