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Thousands of UK workers to take part in ‘biggest ever’ four-day week trial

Over 3,000 employees working for 60 companies to take part from June

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 04 April 2022 18:15 BST
The pilot is planned to run for an initial six months but could become permanent
The pilot is planned to run for an initial six months but could become permanent (Getty)

Thousands of workers at British companies are set to take part in the world's “biggest ever” trial of a four-day working week.

From June this year 60 companies will give their 3,000 employees a three-day weekend without any reduction in pay.

The pilot is planned to run for an initial six months, but if it works well the firms could make the approach permanent.

The size of the UK trial, which will be overseen by academics from institutions including Oxford and Cambridge universities, is the largest to date.

It exceeds the scale of a previous pilot by Iceland's government and Reykjavík City Council, which cut hours for more than 2,500 workers and concluded in 2019.

That trial was dubbed an “overwhelming success” and found increases in productivity as well as worker wellbeing. Some trade unions in the country have moved to make the changes permanent by negotiating new collective agreements.

The UK trial will cover a variety of companies, from office-based software developers through to a local fish and chip shop, a brewery and a telecoms provider.

“The momentum behind the four-day week continues to build, and this is borne out by the incredible response we have received from UK employers to our pilot programme”, said Joe O'Connor, chief executive of campaign group 4 Day Week Global.

“Increasingly, managers and executives are embracing a new model of work which focuses on quality of outputs, not quantity of hours. Workers have emerged from the pandemic with different expectations around what constitutes a healthy life/work balance.

“Sometimes it takes a big disruptor to dislodge deeply embedded societal and cultural norms. That's what we are seeing with the traditional five-day working week following the covid-induced flexible working revolution. Those who think we will turn the clock back to the way things were two years ago are engaged in 'pie in the sky' thinking – the four-day week is an idea whose time has come.”

The organisations set to undertake the pilot include the Royal Society of Biology, Hutch, Yo Telecom, Adzooma, Pressure Drop Brewing, Happy, Platten’s Fish and Chips, Eurowagens, Bookishly, Outcomes First Group, and Trio Media.

The principle behind the approach is known as the “100:80:100 model” – where employers continue 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for a commitment by workers to maintain at least 100 per cent of their existing productivity.

Academics are expected to work with each participating organisation to measure the impact on productivity in the business and the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender inequality.

The number of companies taking part has grown since The Independent first reported the plan for the pilot project in March. Organisers were met with a flurry of last-minute sign-ups just before their deadline.

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, one of the larger employers to take part in the pilot, said: “The four-day week pilot is a fantastic opportunity to challenge another long standing truism – that to deliver quality you must work long hours.

“RSB believes joining the vanguard of a four-day working week movement will position us as a leading employer, allow us to retain and attract the best staff and to continue to deliver impact and value. It will be another important string in the bow of flexible working leading to greater diversity of thought and people.”

Kyle Lewis, co-director of the think-tank Autonomy, which will help analysis the pilot, said it was “very exciting” that the pilot would include “a very wide cross-section of sectors from across the British economy.

“The UK pilot is going to be the biggest ever four-day week pilot to take place anywhere in the world”, he said.

“In the wake of Covid, it looks like the main reason organisations are embracing the four-day week is to retain staff and attract new talent.”

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