Study Reveals Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek

Posted by on Mar 2, 2023 in Economics, Stuff You Should Know, World

A pilot program of a 4-day workweek recently concluded in the United Kingdom. The study lasted from June to December 2022. The largest study to date, it involved 2,900 employees from 61 companies. To test a shorter workweek, employees were paid for five days of work each week, but only asked to work the equivalent of 4 days each week (or 32 hours). Participating companies came from industries including marketing/advertising, professional services, charities/non-profits, healthcare, arts and entertainment, construction, manufacturing and more.  

The results of the study might surprise you. Performance and productivity stayed the same or improved on average, even though employees were working one day less per week! When compared to a similar period from previous years, companies reported revenue increases of 35 percent on average. Employee satisfaction, quality of family life, quality of social life, and overall quality of health were found to improve. Sleeping issues, anxiety, burnout, stress, fatigue, absenteeism, and quitting all decreased.  

Ninety-two percent of the companies in the study have decided to leave behind the 5-day workweek and continue with the 4-day workweek for now. Thirty percent have made the policy permanent. Sixty-two percent continue to test it out. Eight percent have decided they will go back to their original 5-day week. 

Why Was This Study Conducted? 

In recent years, the idea of the 4-day workweek has become more popular. It has become a mainstream topic of debate for many reasons. These include flexible work patterns spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, a strengthening commitment to a healthy work-life balance, and the growing body of evidence about the benefits of such a change.  

How Was This Study Conducted? 

The study was a joint effort by research teams from the University of Cambridge, Boston College, 4 Day Week Global (an advocacy group), and Autonomy (a research organization). The researchers wanted to learn about the impact of a meaningful reduction in working hours. Each company could choose how they implemented the changes. Some companies tested four-day weeks. Others stayed with five-day weeks, but with shorter workdays. Others used schedules that varied but averaged to 32 hours per week for the whole year. To gain insights researchers looked at administrative data from the companies, survey data from the employees, and conducted a range of interviews from the beginning, middle, and end of the trial.  

What Was Learned? 

The data collected show that employee satisfaction greatly improved. When employees were asked about their health and mood, they described the 4-day workweek positively. Thirty-nine percent of employees were less stressed, and seventy-one percent had reduced levels of burnout. Employees reported an increased ability to keep work and home life separate. Interestingly, fifteen percent of respondents said that no amount of money could entice them to leave a 4-day schedule to go back to a 5-day schedule.   

colorful graphic illustration of coworkers in an office meeting looking at a large wall calendar
Recent studies are promoting the benefits of a 4-day workweek.

Lifestyle balance and habits also were enhanced. Conflicts between work and family life decreased. Many found that an extra day off allowed them to balance work with other responsibilities. For example, 60 percent of employees said balancing caregiver responsibilities became easier. Likewise, balancing employment with social life also became easier. With their extra time, the majority of employees reported attending to personal responsibilities. These included attending medical appointments, grocery shopping, household work, and more. Most reported that the ability to get these tasks done during this time opened their weekends for true leisure activities.  

Advocates of the 4-day workweek have argued that the schedule can help achieve gender equality. There is a well-documented gender gap when it comes to who spends the most time caring for children and doing housework. On average, women spend more time on these responsibilities. The trial showed that men increased the time they spent caring for children by more than double that of women, who were already performing those duties before a reduction in work hours (27 percent to 13 percent). However, there was almost no change by gender when it came to the share of housework. The researchers did not draw conclusions about why this was the case.  

What’s Next? 

Overall, these results show the possibility for a variety of companies and industries to shorten a standard work week to 32 hours with no reduction in pay for employees, while maintaining previous levels of work output and improving the well-being of workers.  

Opponents of the 4-day workweek warn that such a shift in policy would not benefit all industries. For example, they worry that childcare and healthcare could face widespread staff shortages. Other opponents say that there are people who want to work more and earn more.  

Despite these criticisms, advocates of the 4-day workweek continue to spread the message. Similar studies in Japan and New Zealand also have reported productivity gains. 4 Day Week Global plans to release results from other studies in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, North America, and other parts of Europe soon. If the body of research about the effectiveness of a shorter workweek continues in this direction, the 5-day workweek could become a thing of the past. 

Dig Deeper Before the Great Depression it was not uncommon for Americans to work six days a week. Research the history of the 5-day workweek to understand why and how a 40-hour week became part of U.S. law in 1938. Write a paragraph about what you learn.