The benefits of thinking differently about work

The latest findings from the 4-Day Week campaign show the benefits of thinking differently about work life balance.

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Despite opposition from some quarters, the 4-Day Week campaign continues and new research emerged this week from the large UK pilot study. According to the report Making it stick by think tank Autonomy and researchers from University of Cambridge, the University of Salford and Boston College in the US, of the 61 organisations that took part in the 2022 pilot, at least 54 – or 89% – have confirmed that they are still operating the policy one year later. Over half have made the four-day week permanent.

Of those employers who agreed to take part in follow-up research, all managers and CEOs said that the four-day week had a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ impact on their organisation. When asked what the shorter working week had changed, 82% of surveyed companies reported positive impacts on staff well-being. 50% saw positive effects on reducing staff turnover and 32% said the policy had noticeably improved their recruitment. 46% of organisations also described positive change in terms of ways of working and productivity, leading to maintained or increased overall performance.

A separate follow-up survey with staff from 47 of the original pilot organisations also showed that the improvements in physical and mental health, work- life balance and general life satisfaction, as well as reductions in burnout, found at the end of the original pilot have all been maintained one year on. A huge 96% of surveyed staff members reported a positive impact on their personal lives.

The survey also shows that work intensity is lower, and job satisfaction higher, than before the 2022 pilot began. Greater work intensity was a big issue of concern for many who worried that cutting the working week, for the same pay as a five-day week, would mean people cramming five days into four. However, the intention of the campaign is not to do this and to rethink the work people are doing so that the emphasis is on greater work life balance generally.

The interviews back this up with employers talking about revising norms around meetings, communications, work prioritisation and more. The interviews also suggested that staff in organisations where the additional day off was only weakly guaranteed (or conditional on meeting certain targets) had some concerns about the policy. The research shows less committed forms of four-day week implementation leave staff less able to plan activities on their days off.

The interviews and qualitative feedback also shed further light on what staff were doing with their days off, including a focus on care responsibilities, hobbies, and clearing out chores during the week in order to have quality time on the weekend.

Instead of politicising the project, it is important to look at the evidence. While the 4-Day Week may not work for all employers or may need to be tweaked for some, there seems to be great value in trying to give employees more time – the commodity that is the most important for many and in consciously looking at workloads. It’s certainly worth considering. The results around retention and recruitment may also be particularly pertinent in some sectors. Even if a four-day week doesn’t work for certain employers, looking at alternative ways to relieve pressure on staff at a time when many are doing more than one person’s job is vital if employers want to avoid burnout, higher absence levels [and for longer] and greater recruitment costs.

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