London: Thousands of employees across 70 companies in Britain have started the first day of a four-day work week, a pilot program that is the latest test in the decades-long quest to scale back workers’ hours while they earn the same amount of pay.
The six-month trial was organised by the nonprofit groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and Autonomy, an organisation that studies the impact of labor on well-being. Researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College will assess its effect on productivity and quality of life and will announce results in 2023, the organisers said in a statement.
A six-month trial of a four-day work week has started in the UK.Credit:Justin McManus
The program in Britain follows similar efforts in other countries, including Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States, where companies have embraced greater flexibility in work hours as more people worked remotely and adjusted their schedules during the pandemic.
“After the pandemic, people want a work-life balance,” Joe Ryle, the campaign director for the 4 Day Week Campaign, said. “They want to be working less.”
More than 3300 workers in banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality and other industries in Britain are taking part in the pilot, the organisers said. Ryle said the data would be collected through interviews and staff surveys, and through the measures each company uses to assess its productivity.
“We’ll be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life,” Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and the lead researcher on the project, said.
In Britain, the experiment began as employees trickled back to work after a four-day holiday honouring the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Ed Siegel, the CEO of Charity Bank, one of the companies taking part in the pilot program, said a shorter work week was a logical next step for a happier workforce.
“We have long been a champion of flexible working, but the pandemic really moved the goal posts in this regard,” he said.
Platten’s, a fish and chip shop in Norfolk, England, is also participating in the program.
“We believe that by giving our staff a better work-life balance they can work more efficiently and effectively,” said Callum Howard, a spokesperson for the restaurant.
The four-day work week has been a workplace dream for decades. In 1956, then-vice president Richard Nixon predicted such an arrangement in the “not too distant future”. But the reality has been unevenly implemented globally over the years, said Schor, who is also leading research into other trials.
Individual companies have tailored their approaches, particularly as the pandemic upended traditional work culture. In the US, some companies allowed employees to trim their work week, by cutting out Fridays, working hybrid shifts, taking pay cuts for fewer hours or setting their own timetables.
In New Zealand, the company Unilever kicked off a shorter work week trial in 2020. In Iceland, a trial with a weekly work time reduction to 35 or 36 hours, involving about 2500 government workers, has expanded during the pandemic, with 86 per cent of all Icelandic workers now on, or eligible for, shorter time schedules, Schor said.
Most of the efforts are taking place in the private sector, but governments in Scotland and Spain have announced support, including subsidies, for four-day work weeks, she said. Companies in Ireland and Australia are starting trials August 1, and two more trials are starting in the US and Canada in October.
Working from home during the pandemic has been the main factor driving the growing momentum for a shorter work week, Schor said. “It made employers realise they could trust their workers,” she said.
Companies are also being forced to restructure the way they work.
“The companies that are really successful in this take activities off the plates of people,” she said. “The most common work reorganisation has to do with meetings — the excessive number of meetings, excessive length and lack of efficiency in meetings.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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