The verdict is in. A 4-day workweek improves employees’ lives without weakening company goals, at least according to a new study.
Trials in the U.K. conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Boston College found that the 4-day workweek improved employees’ feelings of burnout and stress, and reduced their sick and personal days.
“We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits,” says Dr. David Frayne, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, in a press release.
Employees across industries reported decreased feelings of anxiety, fatigue, and poor sleep, and increased physical health. Seventy-one percent of the employees reported feeling lower levels of burnout, and 39% reported lower levels of stress compared to the beginning of the 4-day workweek trial. Overall, sick and personal days taken decreased by 65%.
The results echo previous trials yielding positive outcomes in other countries. 4 Day Week Global, the nonprofit that helped facilitate the trial, found similar results in their U.S. and Ireland trial published in the fall of 2022. Employers reported stronger work performance, and employees reported lower levels of burnout and stress.
“It was common for employees to describe a significant reduction in stress,” Niamh Bridson Hubbard, researcher and PhD candidate in the sociology department at the University of Cambridge, says in the press release. “Many described being able to switch off or breathe more easily at home. One person told us how their ‘Sunday dread’ had disappeared.”
The comprehensive study in the U.K. included nearly 3,000 employees who adhered to a 20% weekly reduction in work hours from June to December of 2022. Sixty-one companies across the U.K. participated in the work hours reduction in myriad ways (not all simply took Friday off). The study’s requirement, however, was that the fewer working hours needed to be “meaningful” while employees maintained standard pay.
The researchers also explored how reducing the workweek impacted people’s sense of a work-life balance when it comes to caregiving responsibilities and leisure time: 60% said it was easier to balance work and caregiving, while 62% said it was easier to balance work and social life. Researchers say the pandemic underscored existing inequalities in mental health and caregiving responsibilities that affect one’s ability to work to their utmost potential, according to the press release. Valuing overall well-being is therefore not only a personal issue but a buissness issue.
This analysis included in-depth interviews with employees and leaders who spoke before, during, and after experiencing the 4-day workweek trial. One CEO of a nonprofit interviewed for the trial says: “I hated the pandemic, but it’s made us see each other much more in the round, and it’s made us all realise the importance of having a healthy head, and that family matters,” in the press release.
While some have feared productivity tanking, the reduction instead gave people a chance to cut back on the unnecessary lingering time that does not aid productivity goals or the bottom line. This analysis found that a reduced workweek did not affect company revenue—on average, it increased by 1.4% across the industries studied. In the previous U.S. and Ireland trials, revenue jumped by 38%.
“Many employees were very keen to find efficiency gains themselves. Long meetings with too many people were cut short or ditched completely. Workers were much less inclined to kill time, and actively sought out technologies that improved their productivity,” Brendan Burchell, professor of social sciences and leader of the University of Cambridge research, says in the press release.
After the trial finished, 56 of the 61 companies decided to keep their work hours reduced, with 18 making the policy permanent.
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