Are we working too much? Yes – according to 4 Day Week Global, who are trialling a 4-day working week. The 9-5, 5-day working week is “outdated and no longer fit for purpose”, according to the campaign.
4 Day Week Global
4 Day Week Global is coordinating a pilot programme to which companies can sign up in order to trial a 4-day working week – with no reduction to employees’ pay.
The trial is now underway in both the US and Canada. In the UK, the trial will run from June to December of 2022 and includes workshops, mentoring and networking as well as a wellbeing and productivity assessment in order to support businesses and track results.
Almost 70 UK employers have signed up to participate in the pilot, listed on the 4 Day Week Global website.
The pilot is being run in partnership with research organisation Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University.
The trial will run alongside similar pilot schemes in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
There are benefits to a shorter working week for both employers and employees, 4 Day Week Global argues. Microsoft Japan trialled a shorter working week in project called “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer”.
The company wanted to see what would happen if the number of working hours was cut by 20%. The trial had positive results with a 40% increase in productivity. It seems that Japan is now considering a more widespread of implementation of a 4-day working week.
A shorter working week gives employees the chance at a better work-life balance which, in turn, seems to lead to a decrease in work-related stress and an increase in productivity.
Perpetual Guardian, a trust and estate planning firm based in New Zealand, found that a shorter working week ticked both of these boxes. In an effort to increase productivity, the company trialled a 4-day working week.
The results found that employees’ sense of work-life balance jumped from 54% to 78%. There was no drop in productivity; in fact, commitment to the employer increased from 68% to 88%.
New Zealand seems to be leading the way for such trials. Unilever, the company that owns Dove soap, Lipton tea and Marmite, ran a year-long trial of a 4-day working week with no reduction of pay for its 81 employees in New Zealand.
“Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time,” said managing director of Unilever New Zealand Nick Bangs.
The advantages of a 4-day working week can also be nationwide, as well as company-wide. A shorter working week “can promote gender-equal distributions in paid work, unpaid work, and income”, according to a report by the Women’s Budget Group.
For example, during the first stage of the pandemic, there was an increase in the unpaid care work carried out by men. The average annual paid hours worked by each worker in the UK fell by 11.1% in 2020.
“Shorter hours of paid work in general are associated with men doing more unpaid care work”, the Women’s Budget Group argues. Sure enough, the report shows that the decrease in paid hours at the start of the pandemic led to an increase in the hours of unpaid care work carried out by men at home.
In 2014 to 2015, the average number of minutes a man spent on unpaid childcare a day was 17.4. In March to April 2020 this rose to 27.4.
A shorter working week could, the report argues, “decrease the gender gap in unpaid care work and increase women’s participation in the paid labour market” and play a key role in tackling the issue of gender inequality.
There is also evidence to suggest that a 4-day working week could have a positive impact on the environment. Government data shows that transport was responsible for around 28% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.
A study by the University of Reading suggested that a 4-day working week would reduce the number of miles driven by employees travelling to work by 558 million each week and so dramatically lower harmful emissions.
A shorter working week would not only reduce emissions, fuel consumption and travel costs but would also save energy. In 2007, Utah trialled a 4-day week for state employees. With offices closed for an extra day, the US state saved at least US$1.8m (£1.36m) in energy costs within the first 10 months.
Concerns have been raised that a shorter working work could have a negative impact on employers and employees. There are doubts about the cost-effectiveness of such a radical change and whether it could be successfully implemented on a national scale.
Without help from the government, not all employers can afford to pay their workers the same wage for fewer hours of work. Smaller businesses, the self-employed and workers on zero-hour contracts, for example, may not necessarily benefit from a shorter working week.
Closing businesses for an extra day could also leave customers in the lurch. The trial in Utah was suspended, for example, as complaints began to pile up from people unable to access services on Fridays.
Overworking instead of underworking
4 Day Global emphasises that their pilot programme will consist of a 32-hour 4-day working week. However, the experiment in Utah did not reduce the number of hours in the working week, but rather compressed them into 4 days.
This meant that employees worked longer days to make up for a shorter working week. Longer hours can have an impact on stress levels, which then affects productivity, seemingly why 4 Day Global is not squeezing 40 hours into 4 days.
On the flipside, a 4-day working week may leave some employees with too little time. “If you’re in a company where you’re doing the work of two people, trying to do that in four days rather than five is just going to be impossible” as Jarrod Harr, a professor of human resource management at Auckland University of Technology, points out.
Many other trials, however, have shown much more positive results. Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland carried out a trial of a shorter working week involving 2,500 workers. Employees worked 35 to 36 hours a week, with no reduction of pay, to see if stress decreased and productivity increased.
The study was a success. “Workers in workplaces that shortened hours showed fewer symptoms of stress” and productivity either improved or stayed the same, according to Autonomy’s report. Around 86% of the workforce in Iceland are now working a reduced number of hours.
The United Arab Emirates became the first country to implement a 4.5-day working week. The reform, introduced at the start of this year, means that all employees of federal government entities will finish at 12pm on a Friday.
Although only public-sector employees are affected so far, it is believed that private companies will also be influenced by the policy.
The Future of the 4-Day Week
Belgium is one of the latest countries to announce the introduction of a 4-day working week. The Belgian government set out that employees would be able to request a 4-day working week over the course of a 6-month trial period.
The number of hours in the working week, however, would not decrease. The current 38-hour week would be compressed into 4 days rather than 5. At the end of the trial period, employees will have the option to continue working 4 days a week or return to a 5-day working week.
Spain is also set to trial a 4-day working week but, unlike Belgium, will not implement longer working days. The government accepted the proposal, made by a small Spanish political party Más País, in 2021.
The Spanish government will trial a shorter, 32-hour week over 3 years. There will be no loss to employees and the government will make up any costs to employers.
Although there are both pros and cons to a shorter working week, it seems that more and more companies around the world are warming to the idea.
The general consensus appears to be that, despite any reservations, it is worth trialling a 4-day working week.