Productivity | 3,000 UK staff to join 'world's largest' four-day week trial

3,000 UK staff to join 'world's largest' four-day week trial

Thousands of UK workers are set to join an ongoing four-day work week trial, which organisers say could well be the largest scheme of its kind anywhere in the world.

As reported by The Guardian, more than 3,000 workers at 60 companies across Britain will trial a four-day working week, in what is thought to be the biggest pilot scheme to take place anywhere in the world.

The pilot scheme was first launched earlier this year, and saw around 30 British firms sign up to the initial six-month experiment, which is designed to test the effects of a shorter work week – without any reduction in pay – on the wellbeing and productivity of the workforce.

Employees from a wide range of businesses are expected to take part in the scheme, which will run from June to December.

Launching the trial to examine how a four-day week could be implemented across a broad range of sectors, such as tech and retail, The Guardian reported that the participation of 3,000 UK workers means it is larger than a previous trial in Iceland, which included more than 2,500 workers, which was conducted between 2015 and 2019.

Britain’s pilot scheme is being conducted by the ‘4 Day Week Global’ group, alongside think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

Joe O’Connor, Pilot Programme Manager for 4 Day Week Global, said: “More and more businesses are moving to productivity focused strategies to enable them to reduce worker hours without reducing pay.

“We are excited by the growing momentum and interest in our pilot programme and in the four-day week more broadly.

“The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’, to a sharper focus on the output being produced. 2022 will be the year that heralds in this bold new future of work.”

On its website, the campaign stated: "The UK works longer hours than most of Europe. It is not making us more productive. It is making us stressed, over-worked and burnt out. It is time for a 4 Day Week."

What are the benefits to HR of a four-day working week?

The topic of a four-day working week, and the benefits that it could bring to both staff and the business, is something that has been of interest to HR leaders for a long time. And recent trials of the concept across Europe, and even parts of the UK already, have indicated a positive impact on employee wellbeing and productivity.

Between 2015 and 2019, a four-day working week concept was tested out in Iceland, where more than one per cent of the working population, or 2,500 people, took part by cutting working hours to 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay.

Analysts found a rise in productivity and wellbeing found in the trial, leading to calls for a four-day working week to be tested in other geographic areas including the UK.

And key findings from the think tank Autonomy in the UK and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland, found that some of the outcomes included a significant increase in worker wellbeing, reduced perceived stress and lower levels of burnout – all of which have likely increased elsewhere as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The researchers also found that productivity and work-life balance were significantly improved, according to lead Alda Researcher Gudmundur D. Haraldsson.

And in 2021, a report in The Scotsman confirmed that the Scottish Government was rolling out its own trial of fewer working days – without a reduction in pay – in a pilot ministers said could help sustain jobs and enhance the wellbeing of its citizens.

As was reported by The Scotsman, pilots were staged in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the SNP having pledged £10million funding for companies which take part in the trials.

UK trial 'long overdue'

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, previously spoke about the UK’ s trial rollout when it first launched, saying that the traditional five-day week was outdated.

“The idea of a four-day working week is not new, but by no means is any less polarising”, he said.

“Putting it to the test in the UK is an overdue move which could bring forward another burst in the evolution of work.

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“The five-day working week was cemented centuries ago, but at a time when many workers had partners at home to handle cooking, cleaning, and childcare. The world has changed a lot since then, and even if one doesn’t have children to fill up their hours, our understanding of wellbeing, especially mental health, and productivity has grown in leaps and bounds since the days of physically clocking in and out."

Elsewhere, Ken Sutherland, the President of Canon Medical Research Europe, one of the firms taking part in the trial, told the Mirror: “We recognise that working patterns and the focus we all give to our work-life balance has changed substantially during the pandemic.

“As a responsive employer we are always looking at how we can adapt our working practices to ensure that employees find their time with us is meaningful, fulfilling and productive. For this reason, we’re keen to pilot a four-day week to see if it can work for us.”

Staff prepared to quit if they’re not offered a four-day week

Research published this month revealed significant demand for a four-day work week in the UK. The survey by Censuswide on behalf of ClickUp, found that nearly a third (31.2%) of Brits are actively looking for a four-day work week in 2022 or have already agreed to one with their current employer.

Demand for a four-day work week is being driven by the under 45s, with many prepared to quit to find a role that offers it. The data shows this most strongly among 35-44 year olds, with almost a fifth (19.4%) of them preparing to quit their job next year to find a new role that offers it, while another 16.1% plan to ask their current employer for a four-day work week in 2022.

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