The world may be one step closer to embracing a shorter workweek, as the results of a UK-based study — the largest trial of the sort to date, featuring 61 companies and approximately 2,900 workers — highlight the overwhelmingly positive benefits of reduced work hours. The resounding conclusion: Shorter workweeks are better for employees and their employers.
Some of the pilot’s key findings include reduced employee burnout, decreased levels of anxiety and fatigue, and a majority of participating employees finding that balancing work, family, and social obligations became much easier — all contributing to a 35 percent increase in productivity overall. The results also documented an impact on gender parity in household divisions of labor among participants, as men reported a 27 percent increase in time dedicated to childcare — more than double the 13 percent increase reported by women participants.
Another important detail for companies to consider is that none of the participating employers reported losing revenue. On average, participants witnessed a 1.4 percent increase, over the trial period, as well as a 35 percent revenue increase when compared to a similar period from previous years. Only a few companies found the need to hire more workers to fill in gaps under this model, and most saw a decrease in attrition among employees, with staff departures reduced by 57 percent over the trial period.
The vast majority of participating companies (92 percent) have since committed to continuing the shortened hours, and 18 of the 61 participating companies have already made the permanent change to their standard schedules.
“As supportive voices, research programmes and on-the-ground practitioners have expanded, a future in which we might all work less has begun to look increasingly credible,” wrote the pilot’s organizers in the new report. “A number of interlinking factors are disarming scepticism and moving the shorter working week from an attractive, if abstract, ideal, to a plausible, realisable alternative across the economy.”
The workweek pilot, which ran from June to December, was conducted by researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College, and Oxford University; the UK-based research organization Autonomy; and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign under the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global. It collected both administrative data from employers and survey data from employees.
The trial set out to prove that flexible, shortened weekly work hours are universally effective in boosting worker productivity and well-being. All participants trialed varied versions of a shorter work period that were tailored for their industries and company structures, ranging from a standard, “Friday off” four-day week to a hybrid schedule with longer, seasonal hours and shorter off-season hours, but all with an average 32-hour working week. Critically, employees retained 100 percent of their pay despite the reduction in hours spent at their jobs. Prior to the pilot, participants received two months of training with support from companies who have already shifted to shorter work periods.
According to the report, companies had just as many unique reasons for shifting to condensed hours as they did new work models, including setting better personal mental health boundaries for workers and addressing systemic exhaustion in workforces.
“In organizations supporting brain injury patients, teaching pupils with special educational needs, or advising citizens experiencing poverty, for example, senior managers stressed the emotional pressures on their staff, along with a hope that the four-day week would give staff some necessary distance from work,” the report explains. “In other cases, the four-day week was described as a response to industry-wide problems of overwork. A video game studio, for example, pointed to several high-profile industry cases of crunch and burnout. The company was started with the express purpose of differentiating from an industry that can ‘treat people like economic units,’ and the four-day week was seen as consistent with this goal.”
4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week Global Foundation support a network of businesses around the world piloting programs that enable what the organization calls the “future of work.” The organization offers guidance and international programs to institute their 100-80-100™ model, in which “employees receive 100% of their pay for working 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% productivity.”
In 2022, the organization piloted and published a report on a U.S.- and Ireland-based four-day workweek, following successful pilots by its partner Autonomy in Iceland and a Microsoft Japan trial in 2019.
These studies add important data to a broader shift in work culture and employee expectations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only shifted many businesses toward hybrid working models, but also enabled new forms of job searching and empowered employees to prioritize their own well-being. According to the UK’s pilot findings, continuing this momentum to restructure the standard workweek could prove to be a win all around.