UK four-day working week trial begins with 70 companies

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Thousands of workers in Britain had another reason to celebrate after returning from a long weekend to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. They are taking part in the world’s biggest trial of the four-day working week, as the global movement towards fewer working days gains momentum in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

From fish and chips to large corporations, more than 3,300 workers at 70 companies will work 80% of their hours for 100% of their wages, provided they commit to maintaining 100% productivity.

Iceland has tested a 4-day working week. Employees were productive — and happier, according to the researchers.

The six-month trial, coordinated by non-profit groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign, with researchers from Cambridge and Oxford universities and Boston College, and labor think tank Autonomy, comes as workplaces grapple with pandemic burnout and the phenomenon dubbed the “Great Resignation”.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier of competition is quality of life, and that shorter, results-oriented work is the way to give them an edge. competitive,” said Joe O’Connor. , chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said in a statement. “The impact of the ‘Great Quit’ now proves that workers across a wide range of industries can produce better results while working shorter and smarter.”

Similar trials are expected to begin this year in Scotland, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Belgium announced plans in February to offer employees the option of requesting a four-day working week, as the government seeks to boost flexibility in the workplace amid the coronavirus crisis.

Belgium will offer employees a four-day working week

Caleb Hulme-Moir, who owns New Zealand-based PR firm Mana Communications, instituted a schedule of nine working days every two weeks in early 2020, initially as a way to retain workers as his company slowed during pandemic shutdowns.

At first, they all took a 20% pay cut. However, business rebounded quickly, and within a month they were back on full pay. The short week was so popular, however, that they kept it. His staff in Sydney and New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, alternate between four- and five-day weeks – a move he sees as a stepping stone for a small business that doesn’t yet have enough workers to move to a four-day week and always be available to customers every day of the week.

“I’ve always toyed with the idea of ​​a short work week. It’s good for staff retention in a hot employee market, he said. “People love it.”

Several large-scale trials of a four-day work week in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 found that workers were productive and happier, with fewer instances of stress and burnout.

In the United States, Rep. Mark Takano (D-California) has proposed a bill that would cut all standard workweeks to 32 hours, requiring overtime pay for anyone working beyond that. A number of companies in the United States have tested the four-day work week model.

Four-day weeks and the freedom to roam anywhere: companies are (again) rewriting the future of work

The 40-hour workweek became standard in the United States after the Great Depression; the government saw it as a way to deal with an unemployment crisis by distributing work among more people. During the Industrial Revolution, it was not uncommon for employees to work six days, for 70 hours or more.

Automaker Henry Ford was among the first to switch to a five-day work week in 1926. Ford argued that its employees were more productive on fewer hours. In 1933, the Senate passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported, a bill to reduce the standard workweek to just 30 hours. He later changed his mind, amid a corporate outcry. The 40-hour week was legislated by Congress in 1940.

A story of the invention of the 40-hour work week, the current burnout crisis, and the alternatives employers use today to attract their workforce. (Video: Jackie Lay/The Washington Post)

Back then, America had almost a 30-hour work week.

In the latest trial, involving 70 companies, researchers will measure the impact on the company’s productivity and the well-being of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

“We will analyze how employees react to an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy consumption, travel and many more. aspects of life,” said Juliet Schor, professor. of Sociology at Boston College and principal investigator of the trial.

The first day of the trial, Monday, was not entirely auspicious: it coincided with a strike by thousands of London transport workers that brought the British capital to a standstill, perhaps highlighting the pitfalls of travel.

Gillian Brockell contributed to this report.

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