The U.K. is beginning the world’s largest trial of a 4-day workweek

The week ahead likely looks much more manageable for over 3,300 workers in the U.K. who, starting Monday, are taking part in what is reportedly the world’s largest trial of a four-day workweek.

From today until December, employees at over 70 U.K. firms will receive 100% of their regular paychecks in exchange for just 80% of their usual working time, as part of advocacy group 4 Day Week Global’s latest experiment in gifting workers with a three-day weekend.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said in a statement.

The pandemic accelerated work reform, such as ushering in widespread adoption of remote work policies, which some companies have now struggled to reverse, and others have decided to adopt full-time.

Some companies, including consumer goods giant Unilever, electronics leader Panasonic, and software group Microsoft trialed a four-day workweek during the pandemic of their own accord, as part of the broader reassessment of how employers and employees interact with each other.

Unilever is still conducting its trial, while Panasonic has made a four-day workweek optional for its Japanese employees. Meanwhile, Microsoft said its experiment saw productivity surge 40% during the trial period.

The 70-plus companies taking part in the U.K.’s four-day workweek trial, which is being coordinated by British think tank Autonomy, cover a range of industries, including education, consultancy, banking, housing, retail, and food and beverage. Participants include manufacturer Rivelin Robotics, game developer Hutch, design agency IE Brand, and corporate communications service provider Yo Telecom.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and Boston College are collaborating on the experiment to measure the sociological impact of affording workers a longer weekend. The researchers will be reviewing how the more-balanced schedule alters workers’ sleep patterns, stress levels, energy use, and travel, as well as other factors.

“The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple dividend policy—helping employees, companies, and the climate,” Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the pilot, said in a statement. “Our research efforts will be digging into all of this.”

The previous largest experiment of a four-day workweek was held in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and involved over 2,500 public sector workers adopting reduced working hours during 2015 and 2016.

The experiment was an “overwhelming success,” according to Autonomy, which reviewed the results of Iceland’s trial. Employees reported lower stress and improved health during the study period while, crucially, employers noted that overall productivity had either stayed the same or increased.

The U.K. trial is running alongside similar schemes in Ireland, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

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