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Could a four-day week improve wellbeing in the workplace?

Could a four-day week improve wellbeing in the workplace?


Becky Spencer reports on businesses who have adopted a four-day working week and looks at the impacts, particularly on health and wellbeing.

For six months in 2022, 61 UK companies with a total workforce of around 2,900 took part in the world’s largest trial of the four-day working week – an idea that has been talked about for quite a while now but one that not many firms have embraced.

However, the pandemic and the homeworking/remote working revolution it brought about have proved that new ways of working can bring positive benefits for both employers and employees, and it was from this starting point that the UK’s four-day working week trial began.

Organisations involved in the trial ranged from online retailers and financial service providers to marketing companies, animation studios and a fish and chip shop. Two-thirds of firms in the trial had fewer than 25 employees, around a quarter had more than 50 employees, and one firm had around 1,000.

All organisations signed up to trial a four-day week but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Like most things in business, one-size doesn’t fit all and so there are many different ways to implement a four-day week – however, all are based on the premise of a 20 per cent reduction in an employee’s working time for 100 per cent of their salary.

For example, in the trial, some firms implemented a traditional four-day week and closed on one day, so all staff were off together. Others split teams so that some staff had Monday off and others Friday. Some firms trialled a shortened 32-hour week but split over five days, and others had days off on a team-by-team basis. One restaurant calculated their 32-hour working week over an entire year, in order to have long opening times in the summer but much shorter in winter. The key was to implement a four-day week that worked best based on each participant’s organisational challenges.

Working less hours for the same money sounds like a dream come true for employees and a nightmare for employers, but the trial has shown that working fewer hours does not have to mean getting less work done. The vast majority of companies found that business performance and productivity were maintained during the trial. 

Researchers who analysed the trial data found the main reason for this was that organisations decreased or cut activities with “questionable or low value in the day-in, week-out operation” – a big one being a cut in the number of meetings, with any meetings taking place being short with clear agendas. Some firms introduced interruption-free ‘focus periods’, while others reformed email etiquette to reduce long chains and inbox build-up, or looked again at their production processes.

Another key element to maintaining/increasing productivity was that four-day week employees tended to use their extra day off for doctor’s appointments or other personal errands that they would otherwise try to cram into a work day. In addition, researchers found workers were much less inclined to kill time and actively sought out technologies that improved their productivity. 

Impacts on health and wellbeing

Employers in the trial reported a 65 per cent reduction in sick days and a 57 per cent fall in the number of staff leaving compared to the same period the previous year. The reasons for these reductions can be found in the health and wellbeing benefits employees in the trial reported.

Before and after trial data shows:

  • 39 per cent of employees were less stressed and 71 per cent had reduced levels of burnout.
  • Employees reported decreased levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues (40 per cent of employees reported a reduction in sleep difficulties).
  • Many workers reported improvements in general mental and physical health.
  • Measures of work-life balance also improved, with employees reporting they found balancing their work with family and social commitments easier within a four-day week structure.
  • When it came to working culture, employees were generally positive, feeling more valued by their employer and describing a shared sense of purpose arising from efforts to make the four-day week a success.

At the end of the trial, 48 per cent of employees said they had more job satisfaction than when they were working full-time hours, and importantly, when researchers asked employees how their current work ability compared to their lifetime best on a scale from 0-10, 55 per cent of employees reported an increase in their ability at work. Some employees did raise concerns about intensifying workloads and a lack of time for unstructured chat, which they said often generated new ideas.

Long-term implications

At the end of the trial in December 2022, 56 out of the 61 organisations taking part said they intended to continue with the four-day week, with 18 companies confirming the change as permanent.

Last month, the findings of the one-year follow-up with the organisations that took part in the 2022 pilot were published. They show that 54 (89 per cent) are still operating a four-day week policy one year later. Half have made it permanent. Around 5 per cent have discontinued the four-day week, citing issues such as difficulties accommodating different staff preferences, a lack of commitment from top management, and difficulties with sticking to shorter hours in an industry that has not otherwise adopted working time reductions.

When managers were asked what the shorter working week had changed in their organisation, 82 per cent reported positive impacts on wellbeing, half saw positive effects on reducing staff turnover and 32 per cent said it noticeably improved recruitment.  Just under half (46 per cent) of organisations also described positive change in terms of ways of working and productivity, leading to maintained or increased overall performance.

Employees who participated in the 2022 pilot were also invited to complete a follow-up survey at the end of 2023. They reported that improvements in physical and mental health, work-life balance, and general life satisfaction, as well as the reductions in burnout found at the end of the pilot have all been maintained one year on.  The majority (87 per cent) of employees reported the policy having a positive impact on their work (91 per cent of managers said it had positively impacted their work).

The success of the four-day week seems very much dependent on managers trusting their staff to get their work done in the agreed hours. Those firms in the trial who empowered their staff and trusted them to get their work done on their set days, found it had a positive impact on employees’ overall attitude, morale and motivation.

The future?

In a poll commissioned by the UK 4 Day Week Campaign, 58 per cent of the general public questioned said they expect the four-day week to be the standard way of working by 2030. And it seems a lot of business leaders agree. A survey of 1,028 business decision makers across Great Britain found most (64 per cent) back introducing a four-day working week, with just three in ten saying they would oppose it. Just under half said they believe it would make the country more productive, 22 per cent said levels of productivity would remain the same, and 31 per cent said it would lead to less productivity overall.

Of course, a four-day working week is easier to implement in some industries than others, and the UK Government has raised concerns about its implementation in English local authorities, although the Scottish Government has recently started a four-day week pilot. But the advancing roll-out of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace may force the decision in many workplaces, with a recent report estimating that by 2033, 88 per cent of the labour force in Great Britain could have at least a 10 per cent reduction in work time due to AI-led productivity gains and 28 per cent could see their work time cut by 20 per cent.


Becky Spencer is a writer and editor on health and safety and accident prevention at work, in the home, during leisure activities and on the road. She was previously Managing Editor of RoSPA’s occupational safety & health journals and is currently editor of the European Association for Injury Prevention & Safety Promotion (EuroSafe) newsletter.


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