The world’s largest-ever four-day workweek trial is nearing its midpoint and the organizers behind it are sharing some insight into how it is going.
Charlotte Lockhart, the managing director and founder of 4 Day Week Global, said there have been statistically significant improvements across a range of well-being indicators.
“Anecdotally, companies are suggesting there’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience with revenue and productivity levels, [that have] either maintained and in some cases improved,” said Lockhart in a video interview Aug. 8.
Improvements have been seen across well-being indicators, including stress, burnout, sleep, family and work-life balance and life satisfaction. Anecdotally, Lockhart said the reduction in working hours does not appear to have negatively affected productivity at this time and in some instances, said productivity has improved.
“Everything we’re finding so far is backing up what we’ve always said which is interesting. But I think that the important thing with this research is that we will have empirical data that feeds into that,” said Lockhart.
The trial is being conducted in the UK through partnerships between 4 Day Week Global, and researchers at Cambridge, Boston College and Oxford University. Around 3,300 workers are participating in the pilot across 70 different companies, with all of them agreeing to have employees work 80 per cent of their usual hours, with no changes in compensation or productivity.
The trial began in June and will continue until November. It is based on a research framework created by Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College.
WHAT THE PILOT IS LIKE
Dr. Rupert Dunbar-Rees, the founder and chief executive officer of Outcomes Based Healthcare, said in a video interview on Aug. 17 that the company was looking for ways to improve productivity before it joined the world’s largest four-day workweek trial.
“The four-day week is really a culmination of that exercise of trying to improve our productivity and really think deeply about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said Dunbar-Rees on the company’s efforts to drive productivity.
The UK-based company has 11 full-time employees participating in the trial who are working in a hybrid setting.
Implementing the shortened week was not without its challenges, however. Dunbar-Rees said that overall, it has been “fairly smooth.”
Early included challenges determining how the company would serve clients, while best positioning the trial for success. The company also had to navigate human resources policies, specifically if the eliminated workday should be counted as annual leave and what to do with part-time workers who are already working four-day weeks.
During the adjustment period, Dunbar-Rees said being agile was a top priority.
“You always anticipate failure, but then you have to plan around the failure,” he said, comparing the adjustment to the company’s work of producing software for the National Health Service.
Despite minor challenges, employees benefit from reduced working hours, Dunbar-Rees said. He reported the change felt like a “proper three-day reset.”
“In terms of the plus side, certainly everyone on the team…they’ve been managing to do lots of things that they just would never have done and come back much more refreshed on a Monday,” said Dunbar-Rees.
“So people are doing eye tests and going to the dentist and doing endless amounts of life admin that would otherwise not get done,” he said.
The shortened workweek is not about cramming five days’ worth of work into four, according to Dunbar-Rees
“Half of the solution to a sustainable four-day week has been about looking for efficiencies and productivity improvements,” he said.
Once key efficiencies are found, the other half of the solution involves identifying and eliminating low-value actions, which involves “ruthless prioritization.”
Dunbar-Rees said it is likely the four-day week will continue beyond the trial period.
“I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the pilot, but I’d be surprised if we got to the end of this and said, ‘right let’s go back to our old way of working,’” he said.
The trial’s operating principle dictates employees receive 100 per cent of their pay while working 80 per cent of total hours, with 100 per cent productivity. This allows companies to measure and support employees on an individual basis, according to Lockhart.
“How that [principle] is achieved is at the essence of what we talk about in our program, in that it needs to be bottom up,” said Lockhart.
Typically, organizations that dictate from a top-down perspective how employees will navigate the shortened week are the ones that become unsuccessful in adapting, according to Lockhart.
Inefficiencies exist and manifest in various ways, Lockhart said, commonly surrounding meeting times.
“What we’re looking for, particularly, is to define productivity rather than busyness,” she said.
Organizations that participate in the trial begin by working with the researchers to identify baselines, Lockhart said, in order to determine where the organization is ahead of the shift to the shortened week.
The next step is getting executives committed to making a successful pilot.
“They don’t necessarily have to make the reduced-hour work thing successful. All they have to do is commit to resourcing and empowering the pilot appropriately,” Lockhart said.
After that, an organization can begin to determine how the pilot will work, while executives take an “empowering backseat,” she said.
After a pilot is designed, flexibility becomes key, Lockhart said.
John Trougakos, an associate professor of management at the University of Toronto, said productivity can be held steady amid reduced hours, as it incentivizes organizations to become more efficient and reduce wasted time.
He said it also leverages the benefits of increased employee rest times.
“I think that’s the other side of the coin when it comes to the benefit of the four-day workweek. That one, it increases efficiency and two, people can work a lot more productively when they’re feeling better and when they’re more energized and when other elements of their life are in balance,” Trougakos said.
Reductions in employee burnout and sick days are among the reported benefits, according to Lockhart.
“It’s all about how you are empowering your people in their own jobs and giving them the autonomy that they need to do that, point number one,” said Lockhart.
“Point number two, you’re removing the irrelevant busyness from people’s lives. And so, what we find, statistically, is that people feel that they can do their job better in less time. So, that helps with the whole burnout thing.”
4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit organization that has been working to support the adoption of a four-day work week since 2018.