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Four-day work week: Who has trialled it and was it successful?



This week, around 30 British companies joined a new pilot scheme which will see them trial four-day working weeks for six months.

The project is being led by the 4 Day Week Global campaign in partnership with think tank Autonomy and researchers at Oxford University, Boston College and Cambridge University.

Founded in 2018, 4 Day Week is aiming to create a “new way of working” which its founders believe will improve business productivity and the mental and physical health of employees, creating a “more sustainable work environment”.

Employees at firms taking part in the pilot, which will run from June 2022 to December 2022, will be expected to maintain 100 per cent productivity while working one day less per week. Their pay will remain unchanged.

Brendan Burchell, a professor in social sciences at Cambridge University told ITV that the scheme has “tremendous potential” to transform conversations about the advantages of a shorter working week into discussions on how companies can implement it in their own workplaces.

“With the social and environmental benefits of the shorter working week becoming clearer, grassroots support more widespread, and technology available to maintain productivity, the time has come for more organisations to take the leap and unravel the practicalities,” Burchell said.

The UK is not the first country to see the a four-day work week pilot.

Here are some other countries where similar schemes are being trialled, and the outcomes so far.

Where else is the four-day week being trialled?

Spain

Spain launched a trial for a four-day work week in April last year, following calls from leftwing party Más País.

According to a report from the Guardian, the trial will run over three years, with €50 million (£41 million) allocated to help companies reduce working hours with minimal risk.

New Zealand

Several companies in New Zealand are currently trialing a shorter work week.

In May 2020, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern encouraged companies to consider implementing a four-day work week.

She said the decision ultimately rested with the employers, but “to think about if that’s something that would work for your workplace because it certainly would help tourism all around the country”.

At the beginning of 2021, Unilever – which has around 80 employees in the country – began a year-long trial of a four-day week.

In a statement announcing the project, the company’s managing director, Nick Bangs, said the move was an “experiment” to see if the trial could bring “material change in the way [people] work”.

“We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose,” Bangs said. The company is yet to publish the results of the trial.

Japan

The Japanese government unveiled plans to encourage employers to adopt four-day working weeks in its annual economic policy guidelines, published in June 2021.

As reported by The Washington Post, the government is hoping to improve the work-life balance of employees and give them more time to spend with their families and further their education.

Scotland

In September 2021, the Scottish National Party announced plans to pilot a four-day working scheme, which would only apply to office-based jobs.

According to a survey of 2,203 people, carried out by think tank Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland, 80 per cent of respondents said a shorter working week would positively impact their wellbeing, while 88 per cent said they were willing to take part in the scheme.

Ireland

A pilot, beginning this February, is being launched by campaign group Four Day Week Ireland. As of October 2021, 17 companies had signed up to the scheme.

Organisers said the project “seeks to understand better the implications of reduced working time for productivity, human wellbeing and environmental sustainability in an Irish context”.

Companies taking part include recruitment firm Yala and Soothing Solutions, a company which manufactures cough and sore throat products for young children.

Where has a shorter work week been successful?

Iceland

From 2015-2019 workplaces in Iceland ran two large-scale trials of a reduced working week from 40 hours to 35-36 hours, with no reduction in pay.

Analysis of the results was published by think tank Autonomy and research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy in July 2021.

The trials – involving 2,500 employees – were deemed an “overwhelming success”, with 86 per cent of the country’s workforce now working shorter hours or being given the right to shorten their hours.

Importantly, the report found that productivity of employees remained the same or improved across most workplaces. Additionally, employees said their wellbeing and work-life balance had dramatically increased, with fewer instances of stress and burnout.

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said the trial showed that “lessons can be learned for other governments”.

“Iceland has taken a big step towards the four-day working week, providing a great real-life example for Local Councils and those in the UK public sector considering implementing it here in the UK,” he said.



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