A large study conducted in the U.K. found that a four-day work week improves employees’ health in a number of ways, from reducing anxiety and stress to supporting better sleep and more time to exercise.
“It genuinely has, even with our academic skepticism, been a really positive outcome,” says Brendan Burchell, one of the authors of the report and a professor of social sciences in the department of sociology at the University of Cambridge.
According to TIME, the new report builds upon previous studies on the benefits of working less by summarizing the experiences of 61 companies with a total of about 2,900 employees that instituted shorter work weeks from June to December 2022. Researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge oversaw participant interviews, data collection, and analysis.
The companies recruited were free to set their own schedules as long as they reduced working hours without docking pay over the course of the six-month pilot period. Employees average working hours fell from 38 hours weekly to 34, not quite the 32-hour target but close enough. About 71% of the respondents said they were working less after the trial ended than before.
The benefits of fewer work hours included better health. About 40% of respondents said they experienced less work-related stress, and 71% reported lower levels of burnout. More than 40% said their mental health improved, says TIME.
The shorter work weeks resulted in 40% of employees reporting they felt better, perhaps because they had more time to engage in leisure activities and exercise. Nearly half of the workers said they felt less tired and 40% said it was easier to get to sleep.
Burchell added that workers were more productive during shortened work weeks and “found ways of working more efficiently, cutting out lots of the time they were wasting.” At the end of the pilot study, 96% of employees said they preferred four-day schedules. And employers got a boost, too. Revenues rose about 1% and employee turnover and absenteeism decreased in the companies that participated in the trial.
According to Boston College News, the 4 Day Week Global, or 4DWG, a non-profit established to provide a platform for supporters of the four-day work week, initiated the trial. Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College who serves on the 4DWG academic board, added that when the companies were asked it they would continue using the four-day model “none of the companies answered ‘no’ or ‘likely no.’”
Schor said that the COVID-19 crisis helped spur the four-day work week movement.
“What companies need to understand is, you don’t focus on individual productivity, but rather the overall organization,” she said. “Employers who went to remote work during COVID recognized that they could trust their people to do the work, and that’s what we’re saying here, too.”
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