Fri, March 01, 2024

Simon Says: Working “four” days

Workers in the United Kingdom overwhelmingly like a four-day week, according to a new report from Autonomy Research in collaboration with a global team of academics. Surveys of workers found that 39% of employees were less stressed and 71% had reduced levels of burnout. Employees also reported better life-work balance with 54% saying it was easier to balance work with household jobs and 60% reporting an increased ability to combine work and care responsibilities.

Businesses also reported positive effects. Revenue increased marginally by 1.4% but there was a huge fall (57%) decline employee turnover. 56 of the 61 companies participating in the trial said they would continue with the four-day week after the end of the trial period, with 18 confirming it is a permanent policy change.

A couple of weeks ago, my students and I visited Textron Specialized Vehicles (EZGO) who has been running four-day weeks, with Friday off, for hourly production workers for at least 16 years, according to Brendan Haddock, Director of Communications. Other employees, including salaried workers, work 80 hours over nine days, having every other Friday off.

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Philip Bowman, Director of Operations, described some of the benefits to both the employee and the company. He emphasized the work-life balance for employees who can schedule events, doctor’s appointments, etc. for the scheduled Friday off without having to take PTO or vacation.

Employees get to enjoy life outside of work more, especially having the ability for long weekends for trips or family gatherings. Employees return more rested, more energized, and more engaged. Friday also allows the opportunity to catch up on production if there have been disruptions Monday through Thursday. Employees are paid overtime if called in on Friday.

Research has shown that there are potential benefits to shortening the standard work week. (Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

What’s different about the new research? Companies offered four 8-hour days for no reduction in pay. EZGO operates with four 10-hour days. Companies did not have to rigidly offer work Monday through Thursday, with Friday off but had to offer “meaningful” reduction in hours for 100% of pay.

Some companies did shut down completely for one day, but others staggered their employees by taking alternating days off. Other businesses, which may have seasonal sales averaged the workweek over the trial period so employees may work more in peak demand, but less in the off-season.

Could this type of work arrangement be a success in the U.S.? It would be interesting to run a trial here and find out. There may be cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S. that impact the effectiveness. For example, workers in the U.K. are more accustomed to time off, with vacation starting at 4 weeks and rising in many cases to 6 weeks per year.

I would also be interested in seeing the long-term effects. The trial was run over 6 months and there may be an immediate boost to productivity that fades over time.

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