Work life

UK companies will test out four-day work week

30 companies have signed on to a six-month pilot program so far, in a sign that a shorter work week may be growing more mainstream.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

The UK’s cultural quirks are well-known on our side of the pond: A critical mass of classic-rock legends old enough to be grandparents, driving on the wrong side of the road, and an affinity for silly walks are all things Americans associate with British culture. Now, merry old Englanders will consider a new and quirky way of working: The four-day work week will be trialed for a six-month period starting in June, with 30 companies already committed to participating.

It’s the newest pilot program from 4 Day Week Global, a New Zealand–based not-for-profit advocacy organization. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less—Here’s How, which highlights organizational efforts to implement shorter work weeks, said that the UK’s program is a sign that a shorter week is no longer such a radical concept. “The four-day week has gone from this crazy, outlandish idea two or three years ago, to something that companies are now looking at seriously,” he told HR Brew.

Here’s what the pilot program entails, and what it might mean for the future of the four-day work week.

Fewer hours, same pay. Organizations participating in the program plan to reduce employee’ hours from 40 hours a week to 32 without affecting pay (though some companies may spread 32 hours over five days, Bloomberg reports). Joe Ryle,  director of the Four Day Week Campaign in the UK, told Bloomberg that similar pilots will begin in Ireland and the United States, with more plans in sight for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

After six months, researchers working with 4 Day Week Global will assess how the paradigm shift has affected organizations’ productivity, the organization noted on its website. In addition to productivity, researchers will also evaluate the pilot’s effect on worker well-being.

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“One more straw in the wind.” Pang said that there’s been a tidal shift in the perception of four-day weeks over the last few years. The four-day week was “for a long time, associated with some kind of economic problem, rather than being an opportunity. Now, on the other hand, I can’t sign into LinkedIn without seeing a bushel of companies announcing that they are incredibly pleased to be starting this trial,” he explained. The tech companies Bolt—which HR Brew previously covered—and Buffer, along with the maker of publishing software 3D Issue, have all recently pivoted to a four-day work week.

It has also been trialed in other countries: A study last year from the progressive UK think tank Autonomy, which researches the future of work and economic issues, noted that for the 2,500 workers participating in Iceland’s four-day week trial, “productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces.” And for Microsoft workers in Japan who experimented with a shortened week in 2019, productivity actually soared 40%, the company said.

Pang doesn’t expect the UK’s trial to trigger an immediate upheaval in the workplace, but he likened it to “one more straw in the wind.” Overall, he said, rethinking the number of working hours is a “jujitsu move with our normal thinking about the virtue of overwork. It’s saying, ‘We used to think that overwork is a sign of professionalism, but actually getting the work done in less time is the real sign of professionalism.’”

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