A trial of the four-day work week is set to go ahead in the UK from June 2022 as 60 businesses and over 3,000 employees take part in a pilot scheme.
The scheme is being coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers from universities in Oxford, Cambridge and Boston.
Some businesses have already tried a shorter work week, with some opting to compress employees’ existing hours into four days while others reduce hours to 32, with no reduction in pay.
In 2019, Microsoft Japan tried giving 2,300 employees Fridays off for five consecutive weeks. The company reported a massive 40% increase in productivity as well as more efficient meetings and happier workers who took less time off.
A similar trial in Iceland held between 2015 and 2019 was called an overwhelming success. Workers changed from 40-hour weeks to 35 or 36-hour weeks including in hospitals and schools and an improvement in productivity was again noted. Some 2,500 workers joined in the trial, equal to 1% of Iceland’s workforce.
Some campaigners feel that compressing five days’ worth of hours into four days goes against the principle of the idea and is not likely to reduce burnout, stress and overwork. The 4 Day Week Campaign prefer hours to be reduced with no loss of pay for employees as well as increased flexibility as to when they work.
The proposed trial
Sixty firms are participating in the trial, with 28 firms agreeing to be named. These include a game developer, telecoms services, marketing and consultancy business, a car parts retailer, a chip shop, an online gift shop, an eco cleaning products firm and a recruitment business.
Legally, employers must comply with the working time directive, requiring employees to work no more than 48 hours per week or 40 hours for those aged under 18. There are some exceptions to the rule for certain jobs, including police officers, domestic servants and those working at sea.
Under the proposals, employers will be required to consider requests for a four-day work week but will have the right to say no on certain specified grounds.
It will be up to the individual employer to decide whether to reduce an employee’s hours or not.
The 4 Day Week Global trial
The June 2022 trial is set to last for six months, with employees working 80% of their usual hours. Their pay will remain at its usual level and they will be expected to maintain the same levels of productivity as they normally achieve in a five-day working week.
Researchers will work with the participating businesses to assess the impact of the reduction in hours in areas including productivity, worker wellbeing, the environment and gender equality.
UK productivity was found in 2016 to be the lowest of the G7 countries. An Office for National Statistics comparison of labour productivity released that year found UK output per hour to be 15.1% below the average for the rest of the G7 economies.
This suggests that there is room for improved productivity and campaigners hope that reducing the number of days worked will help.
A reduction in commuting could also help the environment. As well as reducing traffic emissions, it could lower the number of takeaway coffees, packaged sandwiches and other carbon-intensive consumption patterns. A study has found that changing to a four-day work week by 2025 has the potential to shrink UK emissions by 127 tonnes.