Thousands of workers in the United Kingdom will get an extra day off this week—and every week for the next six months—without their paychecks taking a hit in what organizers are calling the largest four-day workweek experiment in the world.
Under the pilot program, employees at a range of companies are working 80 percent of their usual week for 100 percent of their pay. A major caveat: they must maintain 100 percent of their normal productivity even while working the shortened schedule.
Two nonprofits, 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign, along with the think tank Autonomy, are leading the experiment in the U.K. this year. They’re partnering with researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College to study how the four-day workweek affects workplace productivity, employee well-being, gender equality and the environment.
Altogether, 70 companies with more than 3,300 employees are participating, including those working in food and beverage, digital marketing, online retail, skincare, animation, automotive supply, banking, IT software training, recruiting and many other diverse fields.
Employers around the world began offering more flexible work arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the option to work from home. For the past few years, but particularly accelerating since 2021, employers have been grappling with widespread labor shortages because of what has been deemed the “Great Resignation.” Workers are quitting their jobs in droves, citing a lack of advancement opportunities, low pay, childcare issues, feeling disrespected, a lack of flexibility and other reasons, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Because of these and other factors, a growing number of employers are receptive to the idea of a four-day workweek, organizers and participants say. Company leaders believe that offering a shortened schedule will give them a “competitive edge” when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees, as Joe O'Connor, 4 Day Week Global’s chief executive officer, tells CBS MoneyWatch’s Megan Cerullo. Beyond that, companies also want to promote better work-life balance overall.
“The pandemic [has] made us think a great deal about work and how people organize their lives,” Sienna O’Rourke, brand manager at London’s Pressure Drop Brewing, one of the companies participating in the pilot, tells CNN Business’ Anna Cooban. “We’re doing this to improve the lives of our staff and be part of a progressive change in the world.”
Though the pandemic and the Great Resignation have created an environment that’s ripe for this type of experiment, the push to institute a four-day workweek is not new. In a speech in 1965, Richard Nixon, then the nation’s vice president, called for a four-day workweek to improve American families’ lives.
“Our hope is to double everyone’s standard of living in ten years,” he said, according to a New York Times story.
More recently, a smattering of companies and governments have made headlines for their four-day workweek trials. Public employees in Iceland who worked 35-36 hours in 2015 and 2019 experienced major well-being benefits, like reduced incidents of burnout and better personal health and perceived work-life balance. A two-month experiment in New Zealand in 2018 was so successful that the company, Perpetual Guardian, a financial services firm, made the change permanent. The trial at Perpetual Guardian was launched by 4 Day Week Global, the same nonprofit involved in the broader trial in the U.K. In 2019, Microsoft Japan’s four-day workweek experiment resulted in a 40 percent increase in productivity and other efficiency gains.
Even with the experiments and growing calls for a shortened workweek, experts are still skeptical that the arrangement will ever broadly stick in the United States because of cultural and institutional inertia. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, put it plainly when he told the New York Times’ Niraj Chokshi in 2019: “In America? I’m not expecting it anytime soon.”