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UK tests 4-day working week in largest study to date

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Remote work has become a resounding success for companies and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, so much so that it has changed our view of work and opened up new perspectives on the best ways to balance work life and private life. That’s why a think tank launched the ” 4 Day Week Global in order to test the following changes: one day less work, with an unchanged production volume and salary. After Iceland and Spain, since 1er June, the program is tested on a large scale in the United Kingdom in 70 companies of all sizes and all sectors, involving 3300 employees in total. This experiment will continue until November. The challenge, at the end of this period, will be to measure the impact of this organizational change on business productivity.

A hundred years ago, the working week went from six to five days. The reduction to 4 days represents a decrease in the standard 40-hour work week to 32 hours for the same pay, the same benefits, and similar production. This could become the new norm if pilot programs to achieve a four-day work week continue to gain momentum.

The UK initiative, led by the non-profit organization ‘4 Day Week Global’ alongside other organisations, is carried out in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the Boston College, which will notably study the impact of the four-day week on workers, the company as a whole and the environment.

Historical tests, the first milestones of the project

4 Day Week Global was created by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart to provide a functional platform for exchanges and resources for the implementation of pilot projects of 4 day work weeks. This idea was born in reaction to the success of the program launched at Perpetual Guardian in 2018, in New Zealand.

This landmark trial, overseen by the University of Auckland, found levels of engagement increased by 30-40%, measures of work-life balance by 44%, empowerment by 26%, leadership by 28%, work stimulation by 27% and organizational commitment by 29%.

Another trial, between 2015 and 2019, involving 2,500 workers in Iceland, more than 1% of the workforce, was hailed as a ” overwhelming success “, in the whole world. Analysis of the results revealed that a reduction in working hours maintained or increased productivity in all sectors of the economy. The results also indicated an improvement in workers’ well-being and work-life balance.

Finally, note that Microsoft’s four-day, one-week trial in Japan in 2019 resulted in a 39% increase in productivity. This is why Japan is considering with great interest the establishment of this work organization.

The 100:80:100 model, on a large scale

So 70 UK businesses and more than 3,300 workers started testing, on 1er June, the four-day week without loss of pay, as part of the largest pilot project ever organized in the world so far, for a period of 6 months.

This new work organization is based on the principle of the 100:80:100 model, i.e. 100% of salary for 80% of basic working time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100 % productivity.

Infographic representing the 4-day week. © 4 Day Week Global

From a ” fish and chips Local to large corporations, the companies in the UK pilot project provide a wide variety of products and services, ranging from education to workplace consultancy, digital marketing, animation studios and more.

Researchers will work with each participating organization to measure the impact on the company’s productivity and the well-being of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality. Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College and principal investigator of the pilot project, explained in a press release: We will analyze how employees react to an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, work and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy consumption, travel and many other aspects of life “.

Benefits for societies and the environment

According to the founders of the project, the four-day week underlies many advantages for the company as a whole. First, productivity is increased across a wide range of industries, as mentioned earlier.

Secondly, the well-being of employees is improved. It has been shown, in historical trials, that the new work organization results in happier employees, with higher levels of job satisfaction. Employees become more engaged in the business, absenteeism decreases, and empowerment and initiative increase. These are crucial assets in this period of change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fourth industrial revolution (advent of AI), automation and digital technologies.

Moreover, while the primary aim is to give a clear answer as to working shorter hours but more productively, the British pilot project also aims to encourage British companies to extend weekends to three days in order to increase the attractiveness of certain jobs, such as catering or social assistance. Indeed, for 50 years, the United Kingdom has experienced an unemployment rate at its lowest, but also a record number of 1.3 million unfilled jobs.

Finally, Andrew Barnes, founder of 4 Day Week Global, says the climate crisis cannot be solved without a revolutionary, global change in the way people work. He said in a statement: We recognized long before the pandemic that the five-day week was no longer suitable for our purpose, and as we tested and studied the four-day week, it became clear that it is a necessary part of the solution to restoring the climate balance. We just can’t go on like we’ve been doing “.

Indeed, the principle of giving all staff an additional day off each week — whether it is the same day for everyone or staggered across the workforce — is that it reduces, according to the researchers, 20% commuting. As a result, energy expenditure in the workplace is reduced, leading to a reduced carbon footprint for any business operating a four-day week.

Government-backed four-day week-long trials are also due to start later this year in Scotland. Another project was launched earlier this year in New Zealand and Australia. In France, only 5% of companies have adopted the four-day working week, while 64% of employees are in favor of it, according to a study by Forbes magazine.

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