New study shows 4-day working week to be a success

People working in an office - four-day work week
Four-day work week: measuring performance on output, not time.
Image: Unsplash/ Campaign Creators

Updated December 2022.

  • The results of a study into a four-day working week are in and suggest positive impacts from a change to standard working hours.
  • 97% of employees who took part in the trial said they wanted to continue with a four-day week.
  • 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.

And the results of a global study point to the positive impact of trials that have been taking place across the globe. The bulk of the 33 companies and 903 employees who took part are unlikely to return to a standard working week, according to CNN Business.

Most of the companies that took part were in the United States and Ireland. Trials have also taken place in other parts of the world, but wider adoption is likely much further off.

The study was run by a non-profit, 4 Day Week Global, in collaboration with researchers at 3 institutions - Boston College, University College Dublin and Cambridge University.

How participants used their extra time off
How participants in the 4-day-week trial used their extra time off.
Image: 4 Day Week Global

A separate trial, also run by 4 Day Week Global, took place in the United Kingdom this year. It included 70 companies and more than 3,000 workers. Results from the trial are due early next year.

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.

Jobs

What is the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit?

The World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The two-day virtual event, being held on 1-2 June 2021, will address the most critical areas of debate, articulate pathways for action, and mobilize the most influential leaders and organizations to work together to accelerate progress.

The Summit will develop new frameworks, shape innovative solutions and accelerate action on four thematic pillars: Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation; Work, Wages and Job Creation; Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

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.

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 a 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.

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