Four-day week: ‘major breakthrough’ as most UK firms in trial extend changes

Nearly all companies taking part opt to continue with new pattern as staff report better work-life balance

The vast majority of companies taking part in the world’s largest trial of a four-day week have opted to continue with the new working pattern, in a result hailed as evidence that it could work across the UK economy.

Of the 61 companies that entered the six-month trial, 56 have extended the four-day week, including 18 who have made it permanent.

The findings will be presented to MPs on Tuesday as part of a push urging politicians to give all workers in Britain a 32-hour week.

Joe Ryle, the director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, called the trial a “major breakthrough moment”, adding: “Across a wide variety of sectors, wellbeing has improved dramatically for staff; and business productivity has either been maintained or improved in nearly every case.

“We’re really pleased with the results and hopefully it does show that the time to roll out a four-day week more widely has surely come.”

At Sheffield-based Rivelin Robotics, one of the participating firms that plans to continue with the new approach, the chief product officer, David Mason, said he hoped offering a shorter working week would help with future recruitment. “It’s certainly something that makes us a little bit different from the average.”

The UK pilot, which kicked off last June, has been promoted by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organisation founded in New Zealand, and overseen by the thinktank Autonomy and a team of academics.

Companies taking part were offered workshops and mentoring to help them rethink working practices. Staff were given the opportunity to remain on their existing salary, working across four days instead of five.

Two men next to company logo
David Mason (left) and David Alatorre, of Rivelin Robotics, say the change came with challenges. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Since last summer, staff at Rivelin Robotics have been enjoying a three-day weekend. David Alatorre, its chief technology officer, said: “We wanted to instil a culture in the company of putting wellbeing first, making sure that everybody is rested and has a good work-life balance.”

Based in a bright industrial unit close to the River Don, the company makes robots that meticulously finish 3D-printed parts for manufacturers, for industries including aerospace and medicine. In consultation with colleagues, they opted to take Fridays off, and extend the working day to 8am-5.30pm on the other days of the week.

Alatorre and Mason said the change had not been without its challenges. It is a small, fast-growing startup – currently with just eight staff – and sometimes the work will not wait.

“We had a trade show that was a big launch for one of our products and a couple of the major parts were delayed. And we just couldn’t physically start the process until they arrived,” Mason said. “There was no way at that point in time that we could have spread that load.”

He added that while it was “quite common that we’ll be contacted on a Friday” he emphasised that he, Alatorre and the firm’s founder, Robert Bush, tended to take the strain when that happens.

“It’s nice to have the flexibility though, which makes the biggest difference to me personally, that Friday, even though I may end up working some of it, I can be at home, walk the dog, go climbing.”

Alatorre said some staff would prefer five shorter days, rather than four – and the management team are now thinking through how to accommodate different working patterns as the company grows.

In total, about 2,900 employees across the UK have taken part in the pilot. Surveys of staff taken before and after found that 39% said they were less stressed, 40% were sleeping better and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities.

The number of sick days taken during the trial fell by about two-thirds and 57% fewer staff left the firms taking part compared with the same period a year earlier.

The vast majority of companies reported that they were satisfied with productivity and business performance over the trial period.

Portrait of Ed Siegal smiling
Ed Siegal, the chief executive of Charity Bank, said the trial ‘has really moved the dial on the mood’. Photograph: Handout

Charity Bank in Tonbridge, Kent, is another participant expecting to continue with the four-day week approach for its 70 employees.

The social lender chose to offer people either a Monday or a Friday off, and the pilot supported them with what the bank’s chief executive, Ed Siegel, calls “a crash course in productivity improvements”.

“I would say that for roughly two-thirds of our team, it’s been fantastic – it’s been amazingly successful. They have successfully transitioned to working four days a week and they love it. It has really moved the dial on the mood, and people are like, ‘Wow, that’s a great organisation I’m working for here.’”

For the others, some of whom are senior staff used to putting in long hours throughout the week, Siegel said the bank was “trying to say to those folks – and by the way, I’m one of those folks – ‘Let’s just be clear, this is your choice. If you want to work four days a week, we want to support you to get there.’”

At the Royal Society of Biology, in London, its 38 employees now take either a Monday or a Friday off, and the working day has been extended from seven hours to eight.

Its chief executive, Mark Downs, said rethinking the way the organisation does its job had been crucial. “There’s no way that you can reduce your working hours and maintain productivity and not do things differently.”

Downs said sometimes flexibility was needed from staff, to attend essential meetings on their non-working day, for example – but surveys of employees during the pilot had produced a resounding result.

“I have to say, without exaggerating, it is the most positive response I think I’ve ever had to any staff survey. It was unanimously popular. Everybody was very, very supportive of it.” When he asked the RSB’s stakeholders whether they had noticed any diminution in service, “The answer was, absolutely not.”

The 4 Day Week Campaign has said it would now like to see many more employers take the plunge, and is lobbying the government to encourage change legislating to give staff the right to request a four-day pattern.

Ryle, of the campaign, said: “The economy doesn’t need us to be working five days a week any more. It was 100 years ago, the shift to a five-day week, and the economy’s transformed since then.”


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Four-day week would be affordable for most UK firms, says thinktank
Autonomy study says with proper planning companies can prosper if staff work fewer hours for same pay

Larry Elliott

29, Dec, 2020 @1:19 PM

Article image
'We see huge benefits': firms adopt four-day week in Covid crisis
Rishi Sunak could prevent steep rise in unemployment if he supports move, says thinktank

Phillip Inman

05, Jan, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Campaign for four-day week aims to sign up more firms after UK trial success
‘The world is ready,’ says campaign after 56 out of 61 firms in trial extend policy

Jasper Jolly

26, Feb, 2023 @3:15 PM

Article image
Thousands of UK workers to take part in four-day week trial
With work changed forever by the pandemic, firms say shorter week could help attract and retain staff

Jasper Jolly

03, Apr, 2022 @11:01 PM

Article image
Thousands of UK workers begin world’s biggest trial of four-day week
With work changed for ever by the pandemic, businesses are testing whether pilot represents a recognition that ‘the new frontier for competition is quality of life’

Julia Kollewe

06, Jun, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Three UK firms sign up to six-month four-day working week trial
Video game developer and telecoms firm among those joining trend for improving staff work/life balance

Jasper Jolly

30, Jan, 2022 @5:46 PM

Article image
‘I can’t work in the office safely’: the over-50s leaving the UK labour force
The number of economically inactive 50- to 64-year-olds has shot up. Some can simply afford to retire – but many have long Covid or other health issues

Heather Stewart

02, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A hundred UK companies sign up for four-day week with no loss of pay
Thousands of employees to be moved permanently to four days in policy described as ‘transformative’

Jasper Jolly

27, Nov, 2022 @2:13 PM

Article image
Canon’s UK arm to become latest company to trial four-day week
Edinburgh-based firm joins pilot study into shorter working week run by Oxford and Cambridge academics

Jasper Jolly

16, Jan, 2022 @3:49 PM

Article image
Bin crews to work four-day week as UK trials extend to public sector frontline
South Cambridgeshire council will test 32-hour week on principle that staff will work ‘more intensely and productively’

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

15, May, 2023 @3:21 PM