4-day workweek trials are going global as the Great Resignation rages on

January 20, 2022, 12:36 PM UTC

Juggling spiking resignations, employee burnout, and the popularity of work-from-home policies put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of employers have begun to consider the idea of the four-day workweek—and companies from Unilever to Kickstarter are actively testing it.

The trend gained more momentum Thursday, with the announcement that 30 companies in the U.K. would participate in a six-month trial of the shortened workweek, with similar test runs planned in the U.S. and other countries.

“The COVID pandemic has been the real trigger for rethinking the world of work,” said Joe Rye, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign in the U.K. “We’ve already seen people working from home and generous government furlough schemes. It has shown that the world of work can change very quickly if it wanted to.”  

The companies testing the four-day week will reduce their employees’ work times to 32 hours a week for six months, and measure any changes to productivity and employee well-being. The 30 companies taking part will have between 20 and 200 employees and will begin cutting hours in June 2022.

The employees of companies participating in the trial will be given their full wage and employee benefits for 80% of their time, while committing to maintain 100% productivity. Companies may ask staff to spread the 32 hours over five days.

Beyond productivity, the study will also measure employee mental health and the program’s effect on the environment, as well as gender equality.

The U.K. trial is being run by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that advocates for the shorter week, in partnership with economic think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College.

Around the world

Calls for a four-day week have been fueled by ongoing pandemic burnout and the so-called Great Resignation.

The Great Resignation is a global phenomenon, but is felt nowhere as acutely as in the U.S., where a record number of American workers quit their jobs in November, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. 

There is a growing movement online for a four-day workweek, with new Internet forums such as Antiwork on Reddit encouraging followers to work as little as possible with the goal of prioritizing leisure time. Antiwork has ballooned from 180,000 members in October 2020 to 1.7 million by January as the coronavirus crisis led many to reevaluate their careers.

After two years of intermittent COVID-19 lockdowns, the move toward a shorter week should come as little surprise. A recent survey conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting Research found that out of 1,000 people surveyed, 53% reported that they are experiencing burnout—and 83% of U.S. workers believe a four-day workweek would ease it.

Four-day workweek trials have been run throughout the world, often with great success. Iceland recently concluded a five-year-long study, which found “there is a strong correlation between shorter working hours and increased productivity amongst wealthy nations,” according to study authors Guðmundur D. Haraldsson and Jack Kellam, and the physical and psychological health benefits seemed to last.

The U.K. pilot study is one of several being conducted worldwide by 4 Day Week Global with similar programs set to start in the U.S. and Ireland, with more planned for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Rye from the 4 Day Week Campaign argues the entire world should rethink work to four days a week, which he says will take time but is not impossible. 

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

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