A growing body of evidence suggests moving from a five-day workweek to four leads to healthier, happier workers and is beneficial to organizational outcomes.
More than 60 organizations and 2,900 workers in the United Kingdom (UK) participated in a six-month trial from June to December 2022, involving a 20 per cent reduction of work hours
and no reduction in pay
. For most participating organizations this involved a reduction from five to four-day work week. The trial was led by researchers from University of Cambridge, Boston College, and the think tank Autonomy. The trial was organized by 4 Day Week Global
in conjunction with the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign
“Before the trial, many questioned whether we would see an increase in productivity
to offset the reduction in working time – but this is exactly what we found,” said Professor Brendan Burchell, who led the University of Cambridge side of this research.
Researchers also found the shorter work week resulted in workers enjoying significant positive health and life outcomes.
Learn more about improving workplace mental health.
Trial participants reported using the additional day off for essential 'life admin' ranging from attending medical appointments and providing childcare to cleaning and grocery shopping. This, they explained, allowed a full two days away from work enjoying leisure activities such as hobbies, exercising, spending time with family and friends, and volunteering.
Not surprising, more than three-quarters of workers surveyed reported greater life satisfaction. Additional mental health outcomes included seven in ten reporting reduced levels of burnout
and almost 40 per cent were less stressed. Six in ten reported balancing care responsibilities had become easier. A majority reported better work-life balance
including more time spent looking after children and better sleep. Nearly 40 per cent also reported improvements to their physical health.
While men and women both experienced positive outcomes, women were found to benefit more
from the extra time away from work, particularly improved life satisfaction and mental health.
The researchers also noted the findings suggest a four-day work week has the potential to reduce costs associated with health care
and produce a range of climate benefits
"It has been uplifting for me personally, just talking to so many upbeat people over the last six months,” explained Professor Burchell. “A four-day week means a better working life and family life for so many people.”
One in six workers who participated in this trial said no amount of money would convince them to return to a five-day workweek.
Importantly researchers also found organizational performance and productivity did not suffer with the reduced working hours. They explained, “Through careful planning, and the input of staff
, companies’ efforts to revise working practices successfully improved productivity without any knock-on ill effects.” In fact, many organizations reported revenue growth
during the trial period and compared to a similar period in previous years.
Absenteeism fell by more than 60 per cent and turnover by 57 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. Many reported the four-day work week also positively influenced recruiting of new workers.
Considering these outcomes, it’s not shocking 56 of the 61 participating companies are continuing with the shorter work week
The findings were consistent regardless of the size of the organization and across industrial sectors including information technology, hospitality, marketing, manufacturing, finance, education and health care. They are also consistent with an early 2022 pilot
involving organizations in the United States and Ireland along with a trial in Iceland running from 2015 to 2019.
Making the four-day work week work
The debate about a four-day work week is not new. Though, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly led to greater dialogue. “It would’ve been a difficult sell pre-COVID—it would’ve struck a lot of people as pie-in-the-sky, and not feasible for companies,” said Boston College Professor Juliet Schor who co-led the U.K. and the U.S./Ireland research. “But the pandemic created such levels of stress and burnout, and led many employees to say, ‘I want to live my life differently,’ and this created more of a space for reimagining work
—and, as part of that, the four-day week.”
Professor Schor also notes the reimagining of work is best accomplished with the participation of workers. “Let the work reorganization be driven by the people who are doing the work. You can’t micromanage. You have to empower and trust people
The report detailing the findings of this most recent trial concludes, “The UK trial adds a wealth of ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge for the next wave of adopters to make the four-day week a reality.”
It appears the wave is gaining strength in the U.K. and in Canada. According to Professor Burchell, “Almost everyone we interviewed described being overwhelmed with questions from other organizations in their industry that are interested in following suit.”
Closer to home, NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche introduced a private member’s bill in December of 2022, to set up a commission to investigate and make recommendations on how to implement a four-day workweek trial here in Ontario.
WHSC can help
The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) assists workplaces through training programs
and information services
aimed at raising awareness about hazardous exposures, including hours of work.
We offer several programs aimed at addressing psychosocial hazards
and promoting workplace mental health.
Many also begin with joint health and safety committee (JHSC) training. WHSC, Ontario’s only government-designated occupational health and safety training centre, is approved to provide mandatory Certification Training
for JHSC members so they are fully prepared to perform their legal role in workplace health and safety prevention.
Similar training is available for worker health and safety representatives
in smaller workplaces who possess these same rights.
WHSC also offers supervisor training
helping them to better understand their legal obligation to protect workers.
Learn more from WHSC
Additional training: Check out all WHSC programs
Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area
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Learn more about the four-day work week
Ontario’s Bill 55, Four-Day Work Week Act, 2022
UK Four-Day Week Pilot Project
USA/Ireland Four-Day Week Pilot Project
Iceland Four-Day Week Pilot Project
Climate benefits of a four-day work week