Study: A four-day workweek improves well-being and maintains productivity

Study: A four-day workweek improves well-being and maintains productivity

20% reduction in working time on a weekly basis without losing wages has led to a significant reduction in workers’ stress levels, a reduction in sick days, increased employee loyalty to their employer, and clearly improved the work-life balance of people of working age. However, it did not affect the deterioration of performance, according to research in Great Britain.

The authors of the largest study to date on the effects of the four-day workweek are scientists from the University of Cambridge and Boston College in the USA. Their study covered 61 organizations and companies in the UK, employing around 2,900 people in total. They decided to reduce working hours by 20% for all employees. This has not resulted in a decrease in wages. The experiment lasted six months, starting in June 2022.

The results showed that shortening the working week significantly lowered stress and illness rates among so-called workforce. 71 percent of employees after the change reported that they felt less burnout, and 39 percent that they were less stressed compared to the previous situation.

The researchers also noted a 65 percent reduction in sick days and a 57 percent reduction in sick days. the number of employees resigning from work for another company has decreased. At the same time, the revenues of the surveyed companies did not decrease. On the contrary – after half a year they even slightly increased (on average by 1.4%).

Of the 61 companies (or 92%) that took part in the UK pilot, 56 said they intended to continue with the four-day working week. 18 companies confirm that they will make this change permanent.

In terms of industries, the employers surveyed represented: e-commerce, financial services, consulting, real estate, IT, cosmetics, HR, hospitality, marketing, healthcare, movies and animations, and even a local fishmonger.

The researchers surveyed workers throughout the experiment to keep track of the effects of an extra day off on their quality of life. Reported levels of anxiety and fatigue decreased visibly while mental and physical health improved.

Many respondents also said that in the new situation it is easier for them to balance work with family and social commitments. 60 percent of workers said they could now look after children and other family members more effectively, and 62 percent – that it is easier for them to engage in social life.

“Before this pilot, many people wondered if the reduction in working time could be offset by an increase in productivity. And that’s exactly what happened” – notes the leader of the research group, a sociologist from the University of Cambridge, Prof. Brendan Burchell. – “There was a clear change in the attitude of employees. They eliminated long social gatherings during work hours. They were less likely to killing time, but they were more actively looking for technologies that would improve their efficiency.”

According to the researchers, a shorter working week has proven to be beneficial in various sectors of the economy.

An additional element of the study were extensive interviews conducted by the authors with employees and company managers. They show, for example, that none of the companies decided to participate in the experiment just because technology reduced the need for human labor.

Some companies shut down work completely for the three-day weekend, while others arranged shifts to cover the traditional workweek. Several companies have attached additional conditions to the shorter week: reductions in vacation days, staff agreeing to on-demand calls, and the ability to deviate from the new policy if performance targets are not met.

The interviews showed how the companies managed to cope with the reduced number of man-hours without compromising the assumed goals. The methods that made this possible included: shorter team meetings, more clearly explained agendas, the introduction of “focus periods”, reforming e-mail, creating to-do lists at the end of each day for effective handover.

When employees were asked how they use their extra free time, the vast majority said they spend it on better “management of life”: more relaxed shopping and housework, recreational activities for which there was no time before.

“Employees also often reported a significant reduction in stress,” says study co-author Niamh Bridson Hubbard, PhD student. – Many of them said that now it is easier for them to distance themselves, catch their breath, that ‘Sunday anxiety’ disappears”.

For some parents, an extra day off in the middle of the week meant savings on childcare expenses. All employees, without exception, reported doing more activities they enjoy, from sports to cooking to making music to volunteering. Some developed old interests, others found completely new ones, and others used this time to improve their professional qualifications, the researchers report.

“When we realized that an extra day off allows employees to relax and rest so much that they devote themselves to the remaining four days with full readiness and commitment – we begin to understand that returning to work on Fridays would be wrong, and in fact stupid” – comments the director general manager of the consulting organization involved in the project.

At the end of the six-month trial period, many managers said they couldn’t imagine going back to the five-day workweek. “Almost everyone we spoke to also said that they get a lot of questions from other companies in their industry that are interested in following in their footsteps,” say the authors of the study.

“Employers in our pilot are confident that the universal four-day workweek will one day come. For me personally, it is uplifting, because it means a better professional and family life for so many people,” concludes Prof. Burchell.

Katarzyna Czechowicz

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