The four-day workweek was a fringe idea until recently, when some countries and companies began experimenting with reduced hours and workplace flexibility. The COVID-19 pandemic upended work routines and made business and their workers reassess their habits and priorities.
"At the beginning, this was about pandemic burnout for a lot of employers," said Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who helped conduct the six-month study with researchers at Cambridge University and the British research group Autonomy. "Now it's more of a retention and recruitment issue for many of them." The pilot program was coordinated by the advocacy group 4 Day Week Global.
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From June through November 2022, 61 British businesses and their 2,900 workers shifted to working four days a week, or 32 hours, at the same pay. At the end of the trial, 56 of the 61 companies said they will continue with the four-day workweek, 18 of them permanently, while two kept going on a trial basis and the final three returned to 40-hour weeks. The companies on average graded their productivity and performance during the trial at 7.5 on a 10-point scale.
Among employees, 39 percent said they were less stressed working four hours a week, nearly half reported an improvement in mental health, and 37 percent said their physical health improved. Asked how much money they would need to return willingly to a five-day workweek, The Washington Post notes, nearly a third of workers said a raise of 25 percent to 50 percent, 8 percent said 50 percent more pay, and 15 percent said "no amount of money" would convince them to go back to working five days a week.
A smaller trial last year, also coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, found similar improvements in assessed employee wellbeing and productivity. About 30 companies in the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and other countries participated in that pilot program, and none said they planned to return to five-day workweeks after it ended.
Most of the companies that participated in these trials are small, white-collar, and "predisposed to exploring the concept of flexible work," the Post cautions. Four-day workweeks are not feasible for all industries.
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