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Could a four-day workweek work? Maybe, new study suggests

A new study by an advocacy group argues in favor of the truncated workweek, saying it boosts revenue and employee satisfaction.

(CN) — In 1956, then-Vice President Richard Nixon predicted people would soon enjoy a four-day workweek in the "not too distant future," leading to a "fuller family life for every American," as The New York Times summarized. Decades earlier, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted gains in productivity would lead to a 15-hour workweek.

But the five-day workweek, a cultural norm for more than a century, has proved a stubborn nut to crack. Now, however, advocates for a permanently long weekend have been given signs of encouragement.

A nonprofit calling itself "4 Day Week Global," released a report Monday purporting to show that companies can do just fine with employees working only four days. And the workers who tried it appeared to like it too.

The six-month trial, conducted in 2022, included around 2,900 workers from 61 companies in the United Kingdom ranging "from online retailers and financial service providers to animation studios and a local fish-and-chip shop," according to a statement accompanying the report. The employees worked four days, 32 hours per week, with no reduction in weekly wages.

"When compared to a similar period from previous years, organizations reported revenue increases of 35% on average — which indicates healthy growth during this period of working time reduction," according to the report. "Of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the four-day week (92%), with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change."

Participating employees reported being happy with the new schedule, and staff turnover fell by 57% over the trial period.

"Before the trial, many questioned whether we would see an increase in productivity to offset the reduction in working time — but this is exactly what we found,” said sociologist Prof Brendan Burchell, who led the University of Cambridge side of the research (he says he was not paid by 4 Day Week Global, and that he remains independent from the non-profit). “Many employees were very keen to find efficiency gains themselves. Long meetings with too many people were cut short or ditched completely. Workers were much less inclined to kill time, and actively sought out technologies that improved their productivity.”

While the majority of companies participating in the study simply gave their workers Friday off and closed their office that day, many of them did things differently. The fish n' chips shop, for example, worked reduced hours in the winter, when business is traditionally slower, amounting to a 20% reduction in work hours over the course of the year.

A previous study by 4 Day Week Global, conducted in the U.S. and Ireland, purported to find similar results, though the newer study is larger and asked respondents more in-depth questions.

The number of workers quitting their jobs in any given month in the U.S. has been rising steadily since 2010. That number took a precipitous drop in the first two month of the Covid-19 pandemic, but lurched upward after that, peaking in March 2021, a phenomenon known as the "Great Resignation" or "Big Quit." The trend created a major disruption across large swaths of industry as employers struggled to attract and retain employees. In response, many companies have offered higher salaries and more flexibility to their workforce.

According to one CEO who participated in the study, "the four-day week was seen as an alternative way of attracting and retaining staff. Several smaller companies also said the four-day week was a compelling option in a period of business recovery post-Covid, which had left them unable to attract staff through significant salary increases."

It's an idea that may be gaining steam. More than 40 school districts in Texas have adopted a four-day workweek, as a way of attracting and retaining teachers amidst a shortage. Some Nebraska schools are doing the same. The Maryland Legislature is considering a bill that would offer businesses tax incentives to switch to a four-day workweek.

"Covid has opened up people’s imagination that the world of work could be very different," said Burchell. "When I was doing similar research pre-Covid, people were very much thinking of me as a utopian, studying something very different from people’s daily working lives. I don’t get that reaction anymore. It could be, in some sectors, very soon, you just aren’t going to be able to recruit the really good people if you advertise old-fashioned five days-a-week work."

Categories: Economy Employment Science

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