Welcome to the four day week: It is good for us!
tests from a trial prove a four-day week improves wellbeing and productivity.
image The Industry / BBC, HBO
words Rhys Thomas
One day soon, we might all be singing “It’s Friday, Friday, no more work on Friday!” Why? Because the four-day week trial, which about a thousand workers across a few dozen companies took part in, has proven to be very beneficial to the workforce. Here’s a little breakdown of what’s been discovered.
The more obvious benefits come to the workers themselves, which makes sense given there’s that extra day off. But specifically, the results have found that the four-day window provided them with more focus, while the extended weekend allowed for more downtime. That time away from work was used from life admin and socialising to spending time with family. Come Monday, employees were very much ready to get back to it. Across the trial, pay didn’t change either, so you could say people were getting five days' pay for four days' work.
What motivated them? Happiness. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve Director, Wellbeing Research Centre, University of Oxford found that there is an increase in productivity by about 10%, and that more sales and calls at BT happened when workers were happier. More being done per day in a four day week doesn’t mean that as much is done as there would be in five though. So in the short term businesses would need help from the government to make ends meet. But in the long term, everyone could win. Women report the largest increase in wellbeing from a four day week, according to the data.
This is especially good news right now, where more people are reporting burnout than ever. In part that might be due to an awareness of the health issue, but also, for many, escaping work has never been more difficult. We work from home, we check emails on our phones. In all probability we might still do this, but at least there is a literal day off.
For the company…
Now you’d think the companies watching all their employees saunter out of the building for a weekend would be having a little less of a good time for it. Turns out, that isn’t the case, even businesses and their numbers and their money, have reasons to be cheerful. The Office for National Statistics reported that there were roughly 17 million worker days lost to stress, depression or anxiety in the UK within the last year, for example. This will have cost a lot in holiday and sickness payment, as well as resource costs for providing services to help people. While a lot of mental health issues won’t be resolved through a four day working week, some will. So there might be less expenditure in sick pay for the company.
Plus, the workers being happy means they’re less likely to leave their roles anytime soon. This saves the need to replace and onboard people quickly, and is better for productivity generally. About half way into the trial, 88% of the companies that had taken part said it was going well, with the majority of them (86%) saying they’d likely keep the arrangement after the trial.
For the planet…
There’s also potentially a huge positive for the planet if we all take a four day week too. Less commuting means fewer emissions, for example. One study by Platform London, an environmental organisation, found that carbon emissions could fall by up to 127m tonnes per year by switching to four day working weeks. It’s the equivalent of taking all private cars off the road, apparently. If offices decided on four distinct working days, then there’d be less electricity being used at those offices too.
Very good, why do we even have weekends?
Yeah, weird construct isn’t it! Weekends have been a thing in the UK and the USA since around the 1930s, with the idea being led by Boots here, and Ford there. In the US, it was to try and reduce unemployment in the Great Depression, while in the UK it was because workers were making too much stock and they needed to take days off to stop waste. Weirdly both have quite similar logos and are named after their founder’s surnames: John Boot, Henry Ford. So the five day week was founded in factories then rolled out to most industries. Perhaps soon the four-day-week will be become normality too!