• A six-month pilot of the four-day work week is starting across 30 UK companies.
  • The likes of Microsoft in Japan and Unilever in New Zealand have already seen benefits of the switch.
  • Employers aim to improve productivity by providing a better work-life balance for employees.

There has been much debate about a four-day working week, but the pandemic and technological advancements have begun to shift some employers’ mindsets to one that is more open and trusting of their workforces.

As a result, the notion of the four-day work week is growing in popularity and a six-month trial recently launched in the UK will discover whether the 30 companies taking part see an impact on productivity and the wellbeing of workers. Under the four-day week pilot programme, run by think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, employees will receive the same salary as if they were working their usual five days.

A Statista poll of Russians in 2021 found that those aged between 18 and 24 showed a higher level of support for the four-day working week. However, those aged 45 years and older expressed a negative attitude to the idea.

Among Russians polled in 2021, the 45-plus age group was the least receptive to a four-day week.
Among Russians polled in 2021, the 45-plus age group was the least receptive to a four-day week.
Image: Statista

In November, Atom Bank became the largest UK four-day week employer to move its 430-strong staff to a shorter week, with no reduction in pay.

Four day work week in other parts of the world

So, where are other companies trialling the four-day work week pilot, and what results have they seen?

Japan

When Microsoft trialled a four-day week with no loss of pay in their Japan office, the company claimed productivity went up by just under 40%. Microsoft Japan also found that electricity costs fell by 23%, and when workers took Fridays off, they printed almost 60% less.

Iceland

The four-day-working-week pilot that took place in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 was hailed an "overwhelming success".

2,500 workers took part in the trial with the results revealing that worker wellbeing increased in areas such as stress and burnout, health and work-life balance.

Future of Work

What is the World Economic Forum doing about including older people in the workforce?

There is a global myth that productivity declines as workers age. In fact, including older workers is an untapped source for growth.

The world has entered a new phase of demographic development where people are living longer and healthier lives. As government pension schemes are generally ill-equipped to manage this change, insurers and other private-sector stakeholders have an opportunity to step in.

The World Economic Forum, along with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and AARP, have created a learning collaborative with over 50 global employers including AIG, Allianz, Aegon, Home Instead, Invesco and Mercer. These companies represent over two million employees and $1 trillion in annual revenue.

Learn more in our impact story.

New Zealand

In 2018, estate planners Perpetual Guardian entered their 240 staff into a four-day-work week trial, resulting in 78% of them saying they were able to better manage their work-life balance – an increase of 24 percentage points.

The four-day working week is “not just having a day off a week – it’s about delivering productivity, and meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives,” says Andrew Barnes, Perpetual Guardian founder.

In 2020, Unilever also stepped forward in New Zealand with plans for a four-day week. It placed the 81 employees based in the country into a year-long trial.

“Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time. We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose,” says Nick Bangs, Managing Director of Unilever New Zealand.

Ireland

In January 2022, 17 companies in Ireland are due to start a four-day-week trial.

The Four Day Week trial “seeks to understand better the implications of reduced working time for productivity, human wellbeing and environmental sustainability in an Irish context,” organizers said in a statement.

Spain

Spain launched a four-day-week trial in 2021, following calls from left-wing party Más País. The trial is set to run for three years.

“With the four-day work week (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times,” said Iñigo Errejón of Más País on Twitter.

From a six- to five- to four-day work week?

The five-day working week is often credited to Henry Ford, who in 1914 proposed that his car production switch from a six-day working week to five. The creation of unions in the 20th century helped to make a five-day week and two days’ rest the norm.

To promote a positive and proactive approach to navigating the future of employment, the World Economic Forum launched the Preparing for the Future of Work initiative. Through reskilling and upskilling, the initiative aims to grow new pipelines and demonstrate a smart redeployment of human capital.