Does a 4 day week lead to a healthier work-life balance?
The idea of reducing work hours is not new but it has gained traction since the re-evaluation of work-life balance since Covid. A work-life balance is crucial for both personal and professional well-being, but achieving it has become increasingly challenging with our ‘always-on’ communications. People are therefore working longer hours and taking work home, leading to burnout, stress, fraught personal relationships and consequently decreased productivity. By reducing the working week to 4 days it allows an employee to take advantage of a more healthy work-life balance and reduce stress while increasing productivity.
In February 2023, the organisation 4 Day Week Global announced the results of the scheme it had set up to trial a four-day working week in the UK. The trial ran from June to December 2022, and participating businesses included non-profit organisations and private firms in recruitment, software, and manufacturing. The trial was reportedly a huge success, with 18 of the 61 companies that took part saying that they had changed their practices permanently and a further 38 saying they were extending the trial indefinitely.
One of the companies who planned to fully adopt the reduced hours’ scheme revealed that productivity had increased by 2%, that absenteeism was down by two-thirds and applications to work at the company “are flooding in”. A leading supermarket chain ran two trials reducing the working week from 40 to 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay, which 2,500 workers, 1% of the chain’s employees, took part in.
The experiment was a huge success, and the supermarket has since expanded the practice, with 86% of the company’s workforce now either working shorter hours or having the right to work shorter hours. When considering issues such as perceived stress and burnout, health and work-life balance, results showed that worker well-being dramatically increased. Most of the productivity and service provision either stayed at the existing levels or increased. 
It was, however, noted that not all the changes were cost-free. In healthcare, for example, there was a considerable cost in providing extra staff to cover. 
Before the pilot by the 4 Day Week Global, other trials were run.
In New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian ran a trial in 2018. Its CEO, Andrew Barnes, had read research showing that the average British employee is productive only 2.5 hours a day, which inspired him to look at alternative ways of working. He thought, “If I gave people a day off a week to do all the other stuff that got in the way … would you then get better productivity in the office?” 
The trial was a resounding success, finding that:
- There was a 20% increase in productivity,
- Workers’ sense of work-life balance went from 54% to 78%.
- Job satisfaction rose, and job stress lessened from 45% to 38%.
- Stress went down. And the missed hours didn’t affect job performance, which actually slightly improved.
- Employees’ commitment to their employer rose from 68% to 88%.
Their full experience and findings can be found in their book The Four Day Week Book.
In August 2019, Microsoft Japan carried out a four-day week trial. All 2,300 employees were given every Friday off for the month. The results were overwhelmingly positive.
Productivity increased by an impressive 39.9%, and employees took 25.4% fewer days off. They also saved significantly on costs, with a 58.7% reduction in printer costs and 23.1% less electricity use.
In 2004, Utah’s state government ran a four-day working week trial. Although this trial involved compressing the full week’s work hours into four days rather than reducing hours outright, they still found that workers reported greater job satisfaction and work-life balance. The trial resulted in higher productivity and greater employee retention.
The scheme was not without its issues, however, and was eventually dropped in all cities except Provo in 2011. It was found that less money was saved than expected and that members of the public were complaining about a lack of access to services on a Friday.
One thing to note is that all these studies found that a four-day week doesn’t work for all industries and professions. In most front-line roles where cover is needed at all times or customer-facing roles to which customers need access to services, the level of cover and facility costs would increase significantly as more staff would be needed.
The success of the four-day workweek research conducted in all the studies demonstrates that a shorter working week can have a positive impact on both employees and employers. Careful planning and implementation is needed to ensure that productivity does not suffer but by doing so, companies can create a happier, more productive, and loyal workforce.