Trial proves the benefits of the four-day working week

Many of us dream of working four days a week for five days’ pay; however, most of us expect this to stay as…

Think of the advantages: a long weekend every week and extra time to do whatever you choose, be it playing golf, going away, or just doing more housework. A recent trial in New Zealand may bring the day this happens closer for us all.

The trial ran for a period of eight weeks and involved around 240 staff, who were asked to work a 30-hour week over four days instead of 37.5 hours over five days. They were paid for 37.5 hours and all their other terms and conditions remained the same. The only other difference was that they were asked to achieve the same output in the 30 hours.

A study in 2017 by the OECD made a number of recommendations about productivity in New Zealand. One of these was increasing support for business innovation, having found that its productivity was significantly below other leading OECD countries. This is interesting because, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works for 8.8 hours per day.

Compare this with a study of 2,000 UK office workers, which found that they spent an average of just two hours and 53 minutes working per day. Other surveys indicate that many workers do not consider themselves to be productive. It seems that a lack of productivity is not confined to New Zealand, so perhaps the time is right to rethink working hours.

The results of this four-day week trial claim lowered stress levels and greater employee engagement with no reduction in output; in fact, the founder of the company that carried out this trial says that productivity increased by 20 per cent.

The UK is reputed to work the longest hours in Europe, with statistics showing that average working hours have been increasing since the last financial crisis. Workplace stress is also increasing, leading to some companies trying similar working patterns to the New Zealand trial.

The problem seems to be that things go well for the first few weeks but productivity drops as the novelty wears off. The New Zealand company in the trial tried to prevent this by ensuring that every worker had a personal plan to maintain, or preferably improve, their own productivity. The UK certainly needs to do something to help reduce stress.

One of the recommendations from the trial is that clear objectives should be set for both individuals and teams, presumably with a strong monitoring process. It is fair to say that 240 staff is a very small sample size and eight weeks is not a long period of time. No doubt most companies would want to run longer and bigger trials; nonetheless, the trial results look promising, so perhaps UK companies should carry out more and different types of research?

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