More than 3,000 workers will begin a four-day week today with no loss of pay as part of a trial involving 70 companies.
It is the world’s biggest pilot study on the subject according to the 4 Day Week Global campaign, which has joined researchers from Oxford and Cambridge universities, Boston College and the Autonomy think tank to establish whether working four days a week instead of five improves the productivity and wellbeing of employees.
Companies including the Royal Society of Biology and Yo Telecom, the computer games developer, are testing the effect of offering 100 per cent of a job’s pay in exchange for 80 per cent of the time and a commitment to keep up 100 per cent of the output.
The researchers will work with each company in the six-month trial to assess the impact on gender equality as well. The organisers hope that a shorter working week could benefit women, who represent a higher proportion of those in part-time or flexible jobs.
The Royal Society of Biology, which has 35 employees, will remain open five days a week but some staff will work from Monday to Thursday and others from Tuesday to Friday. Businesses including Pressure Drop, a London brewery, and Platten’s, a Norfolk fish and chip shop, are also taking part.
Kirsty Wainwright, 34, the general manager at Platten’s, said that the long hours expected of hospitality workers were contributing to staff shortages. “The hospitality industry has really unsociable working hours and it needs to change,” she said, adding that spending time with her children was the best thing about a four-day week. “Having that extra rest and not feeling exhausted means I can be more productive at work too.”
Experts have cautioned that a four-day week alone will not boost productivity. “Firms that are trying to continue to pay people for five days, but only require them to work for four, will have to do a whole lot of other things to get productivity improvements to enable them to do that,” Tony Wilson, the director of the Institute for Employment Studies, has said in a previous interview.
The five-day week was adopted in 1932 in the United States to combat the number of people left unemployed by the Great Depression. The idea was that working for a shorter period would enable more people to remain in jobs. It arrived in Britain when John Boot, the chairman of Boots the chemist, moved to a five-day working week to cut redundancies in 1934. In the 19th century, factory workers had been expected to work every day but Sunday.
Atom Bank, the smartphone-based lender, became the biggest UK employer to make the change when it moved the majority of its 430 employees to a four-day week last November.
Government-backed trials will begin this week in Scotland and Spain. Joe O’Connor, the head of 4 Day Week Global, said the UK is at the forefront of the shift to a shorter working week. “As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge.”