UK companies are testing out a 4-day workweek. Most have seen no loss in productivity

 More than 70 British companies are testing out a four-day workweek. And, halfway through the six-month trial, most respondents are saying there's been no loss in productivity – with some actually reporting significant improvement.

The trial, led by nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, kicked off at the beginning of June. In the pilot program, more than 3,300 employees in the United Kingdom get one paid day off each week.

Forty-one participating companies have reported mid-trial results – with 88% saying that the four-day workweek is working "well" for their business, according to a Wednesday press release.

In addition, 46% of respondents said their business has "maintained around the same level" of productivity. Some saw further benefits with a shortened week – with 34% reporting that productivity has "improved slightly" and 15% saying it has "improved significantly."

"The organizations in the United Kingdom pilot are contributing real-time data and knowledge that are worth their weight in gold," 4 Day Week Global CEO Joe O’Connor said in a statement. "Essentially, they are laying the foundation for the future of work by putting a four-day week into practice, across every size of business and nearly every sector, and telling us exactly what they are finding as they go."

While most reported positive outcomes, O'Connor also recognized that the shift can be an adjustment – with "some understandable hurdles – especially among those which have comparatively fixed or inflexible practices, systems, or cultures which date back well into the last century."

But, as some participating companies noted, experimenting with the change has been worth it.

"We're proud to be involved in the trial and it's going well for us. It wasn't a walk in the park at the start, but no major change ever is," said Nicci Russell, managing director of Waterwise, a U.K. water conservation organization participating in the trial. "We certainly all love the extra day out of the office and do come back refreshed. It's been great for our well-being and we're definitely more productive already."

Marketing agency Trio Media, which is also participating in the six-month pilot, reported similar success. Trio Media CEO Claire Daniels noted that "Productivity has remained high, with an increase in wellness for the team, along with our business performing 44% better financially."

As of the halfway point of the trial, 86% of respondents said they would be "extremely likely" or "likely" to consider keeping the four-day workweek policy after the pilot program ends.

4 Day Week Global is running the U.K. trial in partnership with the think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College.

Beyond Britain, other parts of the world have also started experimenting with a four-day workweek – including some pilot programs in New Zealand, IcelandCanada, and the United States. Others have pushed for policy change through legislation.

In April, for example, California introduced a bill that would make the official workweek 32 hours, and no longer 40 hours, for companies with 500 employees or more. The bill was later put on hold, and future legislation is uncertain.

Most of the companies participating in a four-day workweek pilot program in Britain said they had seen no loss of productivity during the experiment, and in some cases had seen a significant improvement, according to a survey of participants published on Wednesday.

Nearly halfway into the six-month trial, in which employees at 73 companies get a paid day off weekly, 35 of the 41 companies that responded to a survey said they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider continuing the four-day workweek beyond the end of the trial in late November. All but two of the 41 companies said productivity was either the same or had improved. Remarkably, six companies said productivity had significantly improved.

Talk of a four-day workweek has been around for decades. In 1956, then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon said he foresaw it in the “not too distant future,” though it has not materialized on any large scale. But changes in the workplace over the coronavirus pandemic around remote and hybrid work have given momentum to questions about other aspects of work. Are we working five days a week just because we have done it that way for more than a century, or is it really the best way?

“If you look at the impact of the pandemic on the workplace, often we were too focused on the location of work,” said Joe O’Connor, the chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit group that is conducting the study with a think tank and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. “Remote and hybrid work can bring many benefits, but it doesn’t address burnout and overwork.”

Some leaders of companies in the trial said the four-day week had given employees more time to exercise, cook, spend time with their families and take up hobbies, boosting their well-being and making them more energized and productive when they were on the clock. Critics, however, worried about added costs and reduced competitiveness, especially when many European companies are already lagging behind rivals in other regions.

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More than 3,300 workers in banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality, and other industries in Britain are taking part in the pilot, which is one of the largest studies to date, according to Jack Kellam, a researcher at Autonomy, a think tank that is one of the organizers of the trial.

At Allcap, one of the companies in the pilot program, it was too soon to say how the shortened workweek had affected productivity or the company’s bottom line, said Mark Roderick, the managing director and the co-owner of the 40-person engineering and industrial supplies company. Overall, though, employees were happy with having an extra day off, and the company was considering continuing it.

“Customers haven’t really noticed any difference,” said Mr. Roderick, whose company’s headquarters are in Gloucester, England.

For Mr. Roderick, the new schedule gave him more time to train for a recent Ironman Triathlon in Wales. Still, some days are more stressful than they may have been since the summer holidays and the shorter workweek has meant that staff can be stretched thin. “We’ve all been under the cosh a bit,” he said, using a British phrase for “in a difficult situation.”

Experiments similar to the one conducted in Britain are being conducted in other countries too, mostly in the private sector, including in the United States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. In a trial in Gothenburg, Sweden, officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more.

Jo Burns-Russell, the managing director at Amplitude Media, a marketing agency in Northampton, England, said the four-day workweek had been such a success that the 12-person company hoped to be able to make it permanent. Employees have found ways to work more efficiently, she said. The result has been that the company is delivering the same volume of work and is still growing, even though half of the employees are off on Wednesdays and half on Fridays.

“It’s definitely been good for me in terms of making me not ping from thing to thing to thing all the time,” Ms. Burns-Russell said. She has taken up painting as a hobby and feels calmer overall. August is typically a slower month for the firm, she said, so the real test will be how the experiment goes over the final few months as the company expands, she said.

Gary Conroy, the founder, and chief executive at 5 Squirrels, a skincare manufacturer based in Brighton, England, that is participating in the trial, said employees had become more productive while making fewer errors, and that employees were collaborating better.

“We’ve kind of gotten away from ‘That’s your job, not mine,’” he said, “because we’re all trying to get out of here at five o’clock on a Thursday.”

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