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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Trial run of 4-day workweek wins converts

The financial district in London, on Oct. 17, 2022. Some 3,300 workers of 61 businesses in Britain participated in a trial of a four-day workweek; fifty-six companies, or 92 percent, said they would continue and 18 confirmed that the change would be permanent.

By Lora Kelley

The pandemic changed how (and where) many people work. It has also given momentum to the question of whether the five-day week is standard because it’s best — or whether it’s just the way things have long been done.

A new report offers one answer.

In the second half of last year, 61 businesses in Britain offered their employees a four-day workweek as part of a pilot program. Researchers found that employers and employees noticed benefits.

Fifty-six of the companies, or 92%, said they would continue with a four-day week, according to the new report, and 18 confirmed that the change would be permanent. The study also found that companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same on average over the trial period — and that attrition among employees dropped significantly. In a survey about halfway through the study, most of the companies reported no loss of productivity during the trial.

“Taken as a whole, results from the U.K. trial therefore make clear that the four-day week is ready to take the next step from experimentation to implementation,” the report concluded.

“I think the four-day workweek essentially accelerates the effectiveness of both hybrid and flexible working,” said Dale Whelehan, the CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit group that conducted the study with researchers at Cambridge University and Boston College as well as Autonomy, a think tank. “Overworking ourselves leads to lower productivity and lower well-being,” he said, even if that work happens at home.

For decades, politicians and other leaders have talked about the possibility of a four-day week. Former Vice President Richard Nixon predicted it in the 1950s. In the 1970s, Douglas Fraser, the president of the United Auto Workers, said a shorter week was “absolutely inevitable.” But for various reasons — including inertia — the idea never took hold.

The British study isn’t the only one to look at whether a four-day workweek works. Experiments have also been conducted in the United States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

Not everyone is sold. Nick Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, said that while the British study raised interesting questions for managers to consider, paying workers full-time salaries for four days of work was “a tough sell to managers and investors” because “most businesses are already trying hard to operate efficiently.” He also noted that the study had involved a small number of firms and that they had volunteered to participate.

Some 3,300 workers from banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality and other industries participated in the pilot program. Their responses were overwhelmingly positive: 90% of those employees said they definitely wanted to continue with a four-day week. None said they definitely did not want to. And 15% said no amount of money would motivate them to accept a five-day schedule at their next job.

The effects that workers reported on their well-being were striking: The study found that levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health improved. About 70% of employees said they had reduced levels of burnout by the end of the trial.

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