In early May, our Client Director Nicky Clark and Head of Consultancy Rika Banerji attended…
Last week, thousands of people across the UK worked just four days – and will still get paid for five.
That’s right, after a months-long lead-up of training, mentoring, consultation and preparation, the much anticipated four-day work week pilot has begun at 70 UK companies.
Participating organisations vary widely in size, sector and working style, from skincare to housing to consultancy to food and beverage.
The 6-month trial seeks to measure the impact of a shorter working week on 3,300 people. It’s organised by independent foundation 4 Day Week Global (in partnership with the Autonomy thinktank, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College).
How does it work?
The model for the trial is simple – 100% pay for 80% of the time, with the expectation of 100% productivity. (Read on below for some other approaches being road-tested around the world.)
The hypothesis is that a 20% drop in working hours will encourage, help or straight-up force organisations to prioritise tasks, streamline time-sinks like unnecessary meetings, and all clock off for a bigger chunk of precious downtime at the end of the week.
All the businesses involved went through a kind of onboarding phase in the run-up to the pilot, to make sure everyone was ready, and invested, and to establish metrics for success.
What will success look like?
The prevailing feeling is that a four-day week is “a triple-dividend policy – helping employees, companies, and the climate”. The research will dig into those assumptions to see how the shorter, more intense week works for people and businesses.
Specific areas of measurement include the impact on productivity, worker wellbeing, the environment, and gender equality.
- Punchy priorities – With 20% more work to get done each day, the theory goes that individuals, teams and businesses will learn to prioritise better and work more efficiently.
- Smarter metrics – Fewer “on” hours could help to start (or speed up) the organisational shift towards measuring productivity by actual results rather than hours worked. Companies in 4 Day Week’s studies found they boosted productivity in the process.
- Better balance – Between work and life. Between those caring for kids and those who aren’t. Between real-time collaboration and smart asynchronous ways of working. The predicted wellbeing benefits include lower levels of stress and burnout, sickness and absenteeism.
- Leadership & managers – The success of a shift like this could rest heavily on leadership and management style. Depending on the size of an organisation, it could be a complex challenge to make sure every manager has the tools they need to make this work smoothly for their team.
- Culture – Culture is a massive factor, as is trust. Some organisations are culturally more trusting, empowering flexible working options for the individual. In other cases, there’s more control and accountability among managers and leaders.
- People impact – The 100:80:100 model seems likely to increase pressure on teams and individuals. It’s exactly this pressure that proponents of the short week say drives better results. But, people respond to pressure very differently, and depending on the spread of roles and functions, the benefits and drawbacks will be different across the organisation.
So, what other models can we learn from?
Other approaches to shorter hours working weeks and more results-focused working styles are gaining traction all over the world. Here are a couple of recent examples catching media attention:
- Iceland: 40hr/week to 35hr/week, same pay
Iceland’s 4-day week has been in the headlines over the last year or so. The positive reports are about trials conducted between 2015 and 2019 at Reykjavík City Council, in which around 2,500 employees were involved by the end of the study. Many workplaces taking part moved from a 40 hour week to a 35 or 36 hour week for the same pay.
- Belgium: 38hrs over 4 longer days, same pay
Earlier this year in Belgium, the multi-party coalition government approved a package that allows employees to request a six-month trial period where they’d work the standard 38-hour week in 4 days instead of 5.
Watch this space
The trial in the UK kicked off this month and will last six months. With the base of case studies steadily growing, it’ll be interesting to see how the results play out and whether more businesses start adopting models like these in the meantime.