Large Study Shows Four-Day Workweek Is Succeeding

Large Study Shows Four-Day Workweek Is Succeeding

Source: Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels

The pros and cons of the four-day workweek have been discussed theoretically for many years. A major study in the U.K. is now in the process of adding substantial amounts of hard data to the discussion.

This large study, which began last summer and is a collaborative effort including, among others, think tanks and researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities, involves more than 70 companies and 3,000 employees. In the study, companies are paying employees their full salary while reducing their hours from 40 per week to 32. They are carefully monitoring metrics like productivity, burnout, sick time, and turnover, to determine, from a broad management perspective, whether the four-day model can be viable for them on a long-term basis.

Encouraging results

Thus far, although the study is not fully completed, results are encouraging. Of the 41 companies responding to a mid-study survey, 35, or 85%, felt they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to continue the four-day model after the trial period ends.

Impressively, in terms of productivity, 39 of 41 responding companies, or 95%, reported that productivity had either remained the same or had improved; six of the companies even described their productivity as “significantly” improving. In simple language, what this means is that less can be more. People were working 20% fewer hours, yet were sufficiently motivated to enable most of the participating organizations to achieve just as much productivity as with a traditional five-day workweek.

As this study continues to unfold, I’m pleased to see that the companies are also assessing human “well-being” metrics like sick time, burnout, and turnover, since these are frequently ignored by organizations, or relatively little attention is paid to them. Yet these are important, often hidden factors that are a drag on productivity and frustrating to management. Employee “burnout,” for example, can be subtle and hard to measure, but it’s a real, debilitating phenomenon. Similarly, the price of turnover, which is also hard to quantify precisely, brings high costs in terms of wasted time, efficiency problems, advertising spending, and learning curves for new hires, etc. Supposedly “soft” metrics thus have definite hard dollar effects.

The search for balance

Was I personally surprised by the strong positivity of this new four-day workweek research? Not at all. My own experience over a long management career showed me that one thing many, many employees value in a chronically hectic society is greater equilibrium, or better work-life balance.

Over the years I had numerous capable, valuable employees who seemed to be constantly wrestling with issues like trying to fit family obligations into their normal, inelastic five-day schedule. I well remember the common challenges of employees’ trying to help elderly parents get to medical appointments, or take care of young children when daycare was unavailable, and the agita that would invariably cause, especially when deadlines for key projects were looming. Stress City.

As a manager, I would try to be as flexible as I reasonably could, and I believe those efforts were generally appreciated. But having an extra day off embedded in one’s regular schedule would have been, I strongly believe, a positive, stress-reducing game changer.

Given this perspective, it feels like any concrete steps organizations can take to help create a more balanced working environment are definitely steps in the right direction.

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