Can you get just as much done, working less time? Conventional thinking suggests this isn’t really possible but new research is challenging this idea. In a groundbreaking move, 61 UK organizations embarked on a six-month experiment starting in June 2022, reducing work hours by 20% without cutting pay. This bold initiative aimed to explore the impact of a shortened workweek on employee well-being and company productivity.
The participants varied widely, from small local businesses like fish-and-chip shops to larger entities in finance and IT. Remarkably, these companies maintained their full-time productivity targets despite the reduced hours.
Encouraging results but more research needed before jumping to conclusions
The results, now in, paint an optimistic picture. There’s a 65% reduction in sick days and a 57% decrease in staff turnover, indicating a healthier, more stable workforce. Even more striking is the negligible impact on company revenues, which, on average, slightly increased by 1.4%.
Employee well-being significantly improved, with 71% reporting reduced burnout and 39% feeling less stressed. With a better work-life balance, employees are better equipped to juggle work with family and social commitments.
When asked what they did with their extra free time, most employees said they focused on “life admin” — things like grocery shopping and household chores. Many found relief in their mental health, with reduced stress and the “Sunday dread” disappearing for some.
Parents appreciated the financial and emotional benefits of spending time with their children, while others pursued hobbies or further education. Others dared to use their newfound free time by working more — this time for themselves, by starting a new business or side hustle, whether it’s launching a YouTube channel or starting a bookkeeping business.
The research was led by the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Boston College in the US. The researchers employed surveys and in-depth interviews to understand how organizations adapted to this new model.
Professor Brendan Burchell, a sociologist from Cambridge, noted that employees actively sought efficiency improvements, shortening meetings and utilizing productivity-enhancing technologies to offset the much shorter workweek. Dr. David Frayne from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology highlighted the trial as a step towards making the four-day week a feasible policy across the nation — and perhaps across the world.
However, the transition wasn’t without its challenges. Some companies imposed conditions like reduced holiday days or the ability to call staff in at short notice. Creative companies noted a reduction in informal interactions that often spark new ideas. Also, bear in mind that the employees knew their productivity was being monitored for this study — this may have influenced their work ethic considerably.
Despite these challenges, many managers involved in the trial say they couldn’t envision reverting to the traditional five-day week. With these positive results, many organizations are now keen to follow suit.
This isn’t the first or only study to report such results. In 2019, Microsoft Japan closed its doors to its employees for five Fridays in a row and saw an overall productivity boost of 40%.
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