• A UK pilot to trial a 4-day working week will start in June. Campaigners hope 30 firms will enrol. 
  • Academics from Oxford, Cambridge, and Boston College will collect data and monitor those involved.
  • They hope to present a test case to governments and business leaders that a 4-day week is possible

Joe Ryle, campaign director for the 4 Day Week UK, estimates that his phone has been ringing every 15 minutes since it was announced last week that a pilot for a four-day working week would launch in the UK. 

The six-month pilot is being run by the nonprofit, 4 Day Week Global, in conjunction with thinktank Autonomy, campaign group 4 Day Week UK, and academics from Oxford and Cambridge universities, as well as Boston college in the US. 

The concept of a four-day working week is not new but it has gained traction over recent years in response to rising levels of burnout, social inequality, and the climate crisis. 

Campaigners say that reducing the 40-hour week will not only make workers happier but that it could also improve gender equality and help the environment. 

It seems others agree. Since announcing the UK pilot last week, Ryle, who is Campaign Director for the 4 Day Week UK, said the initiative has already attracted interest from hundreds of companies hoping to get involved.

4 Day Week Global is seeking around 30 companies to sign up before launching the trial in June. Those accepted will adopt a 80-100-100 model of working: an 80% drop in hours, while retaining 100% pay and 100% of a worker’s productivity. 

Researchers from Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Boston College will collect data from the trials, interview companies involved, and come up with ways to measure how successful they’ve been. 

The participating companies will be whittled down to ensure a range of industries and types of business.
So far, three companies have officially signed up — the training company MLB Seminars, communications firm Yo Telecom and videogame designer Hutch Games. A UK unit of the camera company Canon has also expressed strong interest in signing up. 

When the pilot officially ends, the campaigners plan to compile a report, which they can then present — alongside data from pilots undertaken in Ireland in February and the USA and Canada in April 2022 — as a test case to governments and business leaders. They hope the findings will demonstrate that it’s possible to reduce hours without losing productivity. 

The trial hopes to change perceptions among workers

“The pilot is going to be useful for shifting the question about how we make it [a four day week] work,” David Frayne, research associate at University Of Cambridge’s Digital Futures at Work Research Centre, and one of the social scientists involved in the UK study, told Insider.

One of the biggest challenges Frayne has identified is changing the public’s perception of what a four-day week actually entails. 

While many dream of a long, three-day weekend, the concept is only going to work at all levels of the labor market if it can be tailored to individual businesses and sectors, Frayne said. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

During a trial of a six-hour working day for care workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, extra staff were hired to accommodate the switch. In contrast, during well-documented trials in Iceland, some childcare workers shortened their day by leaving when the children went home, instead of staying later.

In total, across the whole trial, which included government call center workers and child protection staff, the average worker cut between two and five hours from their working week and experienced improvements in wellbeing.

Campaigners argue that a reduction in working hours can typically be achieved by cutting down meetings and using technology to improve workloads. 

Morgan Rigby, chairman of MBL Seminars, said that the switch would provide them with the opportunity to transform their business through innovation. It would also help the company to prioritize the wellbeing of its 70 employees, he said. 

Ryle is very clear about what it doesn’t mean: “Compressing hours from five days into four doesn’t solve the problems of workplace burnout, stress, overwork, or mental health issues,” Ryle said. It also shouldn’t come with a reduction in pay. 

Anyone hoping for a sudden change shouldn’t get too excited

While the idea of a four-day work week may be popular with workers, it’s only slowly gaining traction in political circles. 

Governments in Spain and Scotland have gone the furthest by pledging millions to fund as yet unspecified trials. Senate members within the devolved parliament in Wales in the UK are also actively debating the concept.

Many of those involved in the UK pilot have backgrounds in politics. Ryle himself was previously communications manager for the Labour party’s former shadow finance minister, John McDonnell. However, they say 4 Day Week Global’s pilot is independent and politicians aren’t directly involved.

In the US, the California Democrat Mark Takano has been one of the most high-profile political advocates. His legislation seeks to reduce the threshold at which workers qualify for overtime pay, from 40 to 32 hours. 

However, despite burgeoning support for the initiative, given current labor shortages, it remains a goal that is out of reach for many.

This week, Axios published an analysis it gathered using data gathered from the jobsite Indeed.com. It estimates around 1,700 in every million listed roles offers the option of a four-day week. 

With many still not convinced that a four-day week can be implemented on a broad scale, campaigners say it’s important that there are pilots that can provide clear and actionable data to counter reluctance and resistance to the concept.

Ryle points to how changes in working patterns during the pandemic demonstrate that the world of work can change quickly when we want it to.

“We’re very clear that this is a policy that has to benefit everyone,” Ryle said. “And of course, that’s not gonna happen overnight. There’s gonna be a transition to get there.”

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