The results are in: it’s time for your business to stop working on Fridays (or Mondays).
The most recent, and perhaps the most compelling evidence to date, of the shift to a four-day workweek comes from a six-month trial that began in February 2022 in which 33 companies with employees in six countries have reduced the workload of their employees to four days, or 32 hours. , one week. Hosted by 4 Day Week Global, the real-world experiment set out to see if employees could be just as productive 80% of the time, all for the same pay. The results have been overwhelmingly positive: companies participating in the program have reported increased revenue and improved employee health and well-being, and have had a positive impact on the environment. And after the success, a hundred other companies that together employ thousands of people are considering or are already implementing the same approach.
So if you’ve ever tried to persuade your boss to switch to a four-day work week, this is the best proof yet that it can work. The results of the new report were unequivocal: the four-day work week was better for everyone.
“It probably sounds crazy, but it works”
At the start of the trial, employees of Soothing Solutions, a company based in Dundalk, Ireland, which makes cough drops for children, were skeptical about the feasibility of a four-day work week, and even less profitable. But founders Sinéad Crowther and Denise Lauaki had high hopes. When the company was founded in 2017, the duo wanted to establish a people-centric culture. So when Crowther heard about the 4 Day Week program in 2021, she saw it as a way to attract and retain talent.
Since Soothing Solutions hired its first employees last year, no staff member has left the company, and Crowther told me that anecdotal feedback on the four-day week has been so glowing that they l almost moved to tears. “One of our employees has an elderly relative who was terminally ill, and she was able to spend three or four days a week with them,” she told me. “She said nothing could give her that time back. She wouldn’t have had to do that in any other job.” Another worker was able to pursue her passion for photography in her spare time, Crowther said, adding that “turns out she’s a fantastic photographer!”
Since Soothing Solutions started operations using the four-day week, the founders have nothing to compare to growing their business, but Crowther isn’t worried about the negative impact that a four-day week days could have on business even if the business grows. When we spoke, Soothing Solutions had just launched on Amazon and had its first UK sale. Its products are available in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Scotland, with plans to expand further. “We have absolutely no worries,” she said. “It probably sounds crazy, but it works.”
4 Day Week Global is a non-profit community platform that promotes the four-day work week by helping companies implement it and funding research on the future of work. The organization was created after the success of a historic trial program in the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian by its co-founder Andrew Barnes. To conduct trials in companies and analyze their results, the group teamed up with academics from Harvard Business School, the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania.
The four-day week movement gained momentum on the heels of the Great Resignation and the push for employees to rethink the way we work. Tech startup Bolt became the first unicorn to try it in 2021, finding it so successful they implemented it after three months. Other trials of shorter weeks have also been successful: a 2021 trial in Iceland yielded positive results, and a 2019 research paper from Henley Business School found that two-thirds of companies operating on a four-day week have seen employee productivity increase.
However, there is some setback. A shorter week could mean that the workload of employees increases every day, causing more stress rather than less. For companies that experience much busier times around the holidays or during the summer, it may not be possible to extend the program to year-round. And many businesses, such as banks or insurance companies that need 24-hour customer service or news outlets that follow a 24-hour news cycle, are unable to close even one day a week. But in these cases, companies could approach the four-day week like they already handle weekends: just organize shift schedules so that there are always people working.
The continued push for a four-day work week is not the first time there has been a move to upend the traditional work model. Until 1926, the standard American work week was six days. Then Henry Ford reduced the working week in his eponymous company to five days. He believed an extra day off would increase worker productivity and give workers more free time to spend more money – hopefully on Ford cars. The trend caught on, and after workers organized in favor of the shift, the Fair Labor Standards Act set the workweek standard at 44 hours; an amendment in 1940 established the now standard 40-hour week. Fast forward to today, and our standards seem ripe for another upheaval.
Barry Prost, co-founder of Irish company Rent a Recruiter, a specialist talent acquisition service, took part in the six-month trial of the 4-day week in a bid to address staff turnover – a problem for many businesses since the coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic started, Rent a Recruiter was already transitioning to a permanent remote work model, and after hearing about the program, the company decided to try the four-day week as well. For Prost, it was particularly important to ensure that the change did not harm customers. Despite these reservations, Prost told me that not only did customers support the changed schedule, some even asked to implement the policy themselves.
Basically, the new approach brought huge gains to the small startup, which employs 20 people. During the six-month trial period, Rent a Recruiter doubled its gross profit and calculated that its staff productivity also doubled during this period. And while that wasn’t the original motivation, Prost told me the benefits showed up in more than just the company’s bottom line. “Anecdotally, we have a manager who is also a psychotherapist – she can now devote more time to her therapeutic practice,” he said. “We have moms and parents who can drop off and pick up their kids on a Friday, which they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”
While staff well-being and retention are important, the trial was also associated with increased revenue among participating companies. Among the 16 companies in the trial that provided revenue data, the companies’ combined revenue, weighted by size, increased by 8.14%, which for some companies was almost 40%. higher than revenue growth over the same six-month period of the prior year. .
Companies that participated in the trial reported virtually no downsides. None of the 27 companies that completed a final participant survey said they intended to return to a five-day week. And almost all of the 495 employees involved in the trial wanted to maintain the four-day working week. According to post-trial surveys, everyone from CEOs and managers to junior staff noticed significant benefits, and a new UK-wide trial is now underway.
Fewer working hours can also help the environment and gender inequality
While four-day workweek adopters might be looking primarily for business impact — in terms of revenue or employee wellbeing — there might also be less obvious benefits.
On the one hand, less work time is correlated with lower carbon emissions – people travel less and businesses use less energy. The 4-day week trial found that participants spent an hour less commuting than before the trial. And as Orla Kelly, an environmental sociologist at University College Dublin, who was the lead researcher of the 4-day week trial, told me, the shorter working week also helps people do more pro-environmental choices. “When people work longer hours, they tend to be in this kind of work-spend cycle where the spending habits tend to be quite intensive,” Kelly said. With less free time, people are more likely to buy food in disposable plastic packaging, drive to work instead of walking or taking public transport, and spend more money in material goods. Kelly tells me that because it’s hard to measure, the research is still in its early stages, but she hopes to dig deeper into the idea and provide more concrete evidence of the environmental benefits of a shorter workweek.
A four-day week also brings big improvements in women’s well-being, life satisfaction, and sleep. Since women tend to take on more family responsibilities, the extra day off was the most beneficial for them, allowing the extra emotional workload to be distributed more evenly. In Ireland, where many of the companies taking part in the trial were based, 70% of part-time workers are women. “Women often tend to work in lower-paying jobs, so they’re usually the ones moving into part-time work, even if they don’t want to,” Kelly told me. In recent years in particular, women have left the workforce in droves, or reduced their working hours, due to burnout or lack of childcare options. “It can be problematic for their long-term career trajectory, their pension contributions and the power dynamics within the household,” Kelly said. Reducing working hours for everyone helps women keep their full-time jobs and not feel excluded from the labor market.
The world is unlikely to move to a four-day week overnight, but the trial has produced real benefits and revealed that it is possible for many types of businesses, as long as they want , to make the change. As companies continue to struggle to attract and retain staff, the four-day week could be a relatively simple solution. And after the last try, there aren’t many excuses not to try it.
Molly Lipson is a freelance writer and organizer from the UK.