A 4-Day Work Week? What the Latest Trial Revealed

The five-day workweek has been the standard for many years, with most people working eight hours a day for a total of 40 hours per week. However, the origins of the five-day workweek go back over a century to the early 20th century when Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, introduced it in his factories. At the time, it was a radical concept, as most workers were working six days a week, with only Sunday off.

Today, the five-day workweek is deeply ingrained in our society and work culture. However, recent trials and experiments with a four-day workweek have challenged this traditional model, with many companies finding that it can lead to increased productivity, better work-life balance, and happier, more motivated employees. While there have been experiments with shorter work weeks in the past, a recent trial of 61 companies and 2,900 employees over six months has provided new evidence of the potential benefits of the four-day work week, as well as some challenges. 

The trial, which took place in the UK, involved a mix of companies from various industries, including law firms, financial services, and healthcare providers. Of the 61 companies that entered the six-month trial, 56 have extended the four-day week, including 18 who have made it permanent. The early signs are that the trial was successful enough to warrant further investigation with the majority of participants and some of the companies involved saw enough benefits to make it a permanent change.

One of the most significant findings from the trial was that employees reported feeling less stressed and sleeping better. Surveys of staff taken before and after found that 39% said they were less stressed, 40% were sleeping better, and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities. This suggests that the four-day workweek can help to improve employee wellbeing, which can have a positive impact on both their personal and professional lives. 

Another positive outcome from the trial was a significant reduction in sick days. The number of sick days taken during the trial fell by about two-thirds, which could save companies money in terms of lost productivity and sick pay. Additionally, 57% fewer staff left the firms taking part compared with the same period a year earlier, indicating that the four-day workweek may have improved employee retention rates.

Despite concerns that a shorter work week could lead to a reduction in productivity, the vast majority of companies reported that they were satisfied with productivity and business performance over the trial period. This suggests that a four-day workweek does not necessarily lead to a decrease in productivity and may, in fact, have the opposite effect.

One possible explanation for this is that a shorter work week can encourage employees to be more focused and efficient during the time they are at work. Parkinson's law is a well-known adage that states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In other words, if you have a certain amount of work to do and a long deadline, you may be more likely to procrastinate and take longer to complete the task. Conversely, if you have a shorter deadline, you may be more focused and efficient in completing the task.

When applied to a shorter work week, Parkinson's law suggests that employees may be more motivated to complete their tasks quickly and efficiently when they have less time available. By condensing the same amount of work into a shorter time period, employees may feel a sense of urgency that can lead to increased productivity and focus.

Of course, this is just one possible explanation for how a shorter work week can lead to increased productivity, and there may be other factors at play as well. However, Parkinson's law provides a useful framework for understanding how time constraints can impact our behaviour and motivation, and how this can potentially lead to increased productivity in the context of a shorter work week.

Of course, there are some potential downsides to the four-day workweek. For example, some industries may find it difficult to adapt to a shorter work week, and there may be challenges in coordinating schedules and ensuring that all necessary work is completed within specific timeframes. Additionally, employees may need to work longer hours on the days they do work, which could lead to fatigue and burnout if not managed properly.

Overall, however, the results of the recent trial suggest that the four-day workweek has significant potential as a way to improve employee wellbeing, reduce sick leave, and potentially even boost productivity. As more companies consider implementing this change, it will be interesting to see how it impacts the way we work and the broader economy as a whole.