The Four-Day Work Week – Is it the Future?
By RDG Director of Innovation and Global Research Doug Radcliff
“The ultimate resource in economic development is people.
It is people, not capital or raw materials that develop an economy.”
Growing up as a Millennial, by the time I was about 15 years, the concept of a four-day work week had become quite familiar. At first, it was nothing more than an unfeasible pipe dream, and it may still and always be that, but regardless, the four-day work is once again back in the news, quite possibly emerging as more employees work from home since Covid began. This could be viewed as a classic glass half full vs. half empty situation for many. From the employee’s perspective (glass half full), this means more time to be spent with family, friends, exercising, sleeping, whatever it may be. For the employer (glass half empty), it elevates the fear of ramifications from a day less at the office. But do these fears come to fruition when tested in reality?
CNN has placed the Pioneers of the concept of the four-day work week on their prestigious “Risk Takers” list. The concept is valid enough to merit investigation of its viability via some early beta tests:
The United Kingdom – the World’s Largest Trial
Between June and December 2022, around 2,900 employees at 61 British companies took part in a trial of the four-day work week. The employees who participated worked an average of 34 hours/week and continued earning their current salary.
The following graph (4 Day Week Global/Autonomy) shows the sectors of participating companies:
The following graph (4 Day Week Global/Autonomy) displays the company size of participating companies:
62% of participants were female and 37% were male. There was a relatively equal age distribution with around 33% in each of the following categories: below 35, 35–44, 45+. 18% of employee participants were managers or executives and 68% had an undergraduate degree or higher. Companies chose between “stoppage”, which included shutting down all operations for one extra day of the week, “staggering” employees’ extra day off, “decentralized” with specific departments working different work patterns, “annualized” with an average work week of 32 hours or “conditional”, which links the entitlement to the extra day off to ongoing performance.
What were the results? From the employee side, 39% of participants were less stressed and 71% experienced fewer instances of burnout. Additionally, anxiety, sleep issues, and fatigue all decreased, while physical and mental health improved. From the employer side, 92% (56 companies) will continue with the four-day work week. 18 of these companies (30% overall) have moved to it permanently. During the trial period company revenue increased by an average of 1.4% and participants experienced no productivity loss. Staff turnover decreased by 57%. In conclusion, “The U.K. study found that the four-day week freed up employee personal time, boosted their well-being and made them more productive during working hours.”
Although significantly smaller, 4 Day Week Global (which also developed the trials in the UK) had two six-month pilots conducted before the UK study, which included 903 employees across 33 companies, based primarily in the US, Ireland, and Australia. During the six months, company revenue grew over a percentage point per month, with an eight percent total increase during the trial (when compared with the same period from the year before). Most importantly, the studies show similar results – increased employee productivity and general happiness, a decrease in mental and physical health issues, but also an increase in company revenue.
Is the four-day work week the future? I have no idea. Probably not in the foreseeable future. However, it is hard to argue with data driven conclusions and therefore I am eagerly waiting for the results of future studies. If future trials continue to have similar outcomes, where most, if not all parties involved are optimistic about the results, companies will have no choice but to at least weigh the possibility.
One final point specific to economic developers: as more companies move towards a shorter work week, and thus providing employees with more time to engage in free time activities, the value of community amenities – greenspace, trails, courts, parks, arts, etc. – will increase correspondingly. Shorter work weeks, combined with the rise in remote work in general, illustrates the increasing importance of quality of place. Comprehensive economic growth strategies can no longer ignore this critical piece of the growth puzzle.