4-day work week: Dozens of U.K. companies are testing a longer weekend

Thousands of workers in the U.K. have a truncated week ahead of them as a large-scale four-day workweek pilot gets underway. 

Beginning this week, more than 3,000 workers at 70 companies across diverse industries will get an extra day off every week, in exchange for maintaining 100% productivity at their jobs. 

The six-month trial, organized by 4 Day Week Global, is billed as the largest experiment of its kind in the world. 

“What is most exciting about the pilot is that we have a wide range of sectors of economy from hospitality, retail, telecommunications, marketing and more participating,” Joe Ryle, campaign director for the UK arm of 4 Day Week, told CBS MoneyWatch. “There is a real mix, and we’re hoping it will show that the four-day workweek is possible across the economy in the longer term.”

Participating employers range from firms in the education sector to banking, IT, marketing, retail and hospitality businesses. The initiative is based on the 100-80-100 rule, that allows workers to earn 100% of their pay, for 80% of their time, for delivering 100% of output.

Employers have been keen to test programs that offer workers more flexibility and a better work-life balance, after workers quit their jobs at record rates as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surged.

The so-called Great Resignation has forced companies to find new ways to recruit and retain talent, including bumping up pay and allowing more remote work.


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Recruitment and retention advantage

Chopping a full calendar day off the workweek is yet another option companies can use as an incentive to entice job seekers to work for them.

“We’ve seen a growing appetite for reduced work time,” Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, told CBS MoneyWatch. “Leaders and executives are drawn to this idea as they see it providing them with a competitive edge. If they can do it without sacrificing performance or priorities, they can put themselves at an advantage when it comes to recruitment and retention.”

O’Connor believes the COVID-19 pandemic has helped generate broad interest in the program.

“Because of the pandemic, managers are more open-minded. They’ve learned that they can trust their workers as we come out of this remote-working revolution,” he said. “They have had to figure out how to better measure output, and what work is getting done.”

For workers’ part, expectations have also shifted dramatically since the start of the pandemic. 

“People’s expectations around what constitutes a reasonable life-work balance has changed; they see this being possible in ways they hadn’t before pandemic hit us,” O’Connor said.

Even businesses in the hospitality industry, including bars and restaurants, are testing giving their workers an extra day off each week without cutting their pay, by finding ways to serve customers more efficiently.

Platten’s Fish and Chips, located in Wells-next-the-Sea, a port town on the North Norfolk coast of England, is giving its workers one whole paid day off each week starting this week. 

“Platten’s gets the value, the team gets the time,” manager Luke Platten said in a statement on the company’s website. 

He believes staffers will be more satisfied in their jobs and therefore more motivated to work efficiently and provide quality service.


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A happier workforce

Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and the pilot’s lead researcher, expects positive outcomes, including greater job satisfaction and improved quality of life among workers who participate. 

“The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple dividend policy — helping employees, companies, and the climate,” she said in a statement. 

Growing acceptance of remote work, and now a shorter work week, has challenged traditional perceptions and convictions about work. 

Even firms in the banking and financial services industry are softening their stances on remote work, and at least one bank is participating the four-day work week pilot. 

Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, said he’s ready to keep pace with current trends.

“The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best for 21st-century business,” Siegel said in a statement. “We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.”

The UK trial follows similar experiments elsewhere in the world.

From 2015-2019, the Reykjavik City Council and the Icelandic government tested the concept in response to pressure from trade unions and civil society organizations. The trials involved 2,500 workers, and outcomes were largely positive. 

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