World's largest 4-day workweek pilot program begins in UK

Thousands of workers in the U.K. are starting a four-day workweek trial — while receiving no loss in pay — as part of the world’s largest pilot program of its kind. 

Over 3,300 employees across 71 companies on Monday began the six-month trial program, developed and led by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, the thinktank Autonomy, and in partnership with researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. 

4 Day Week Global called the U.K. pilot "the largest work time reduction trial to take place anywhere in the world to date."

The U.K. pilot runs alongside similar programs also taking place around the world. In North America, more than three dozen companies in the U.S. and Canada have signed up, including the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, a manufacturer of custom motorhomes in Ohio, and a hospitality group in New Mexico that runs several restaurants.

The idea of a shortened, four-day workweek has gained traction in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic which dramatically shifted how companies operate and presented a broad reevaluation of work-life balance.

In England, the companies taking part range from a fish and chips restaurant to software firms to financial services, according to the Guardian

What does a four-day work week look like?

The four-day workweek uses the 100-80-100 model, aiming for employees to receive 100% pay while working 80% of the time and maintaining 100% productivity.

Previous case studies have found companies that have made the transition to a 32-hour workweek benefited from increased productivity, higher talent attraction and retention, and overall improved employee health — with customers enjoying the results, too.

It seeks to shift the focus from hours worked to overall productivity, and as a result, can actually force companies to assess internal practices like poorly-run meetings and outdated technology to make businesses run more efficiently.

Various companies and governments have done their own trials or implementation of shorter working hours, including Microsoft in Japan and Iceland’s government. One lawmaker in California previously introduced legislation to reduce the standard 40-hour week to 32 hours for some companies, though the bill seems to have since stalled.

The pandemic also forced companies and employees to explore more remote work options and reevaluate the work-life balance. A large majority of U.S. workers (92%) said they were in favor of a four-day workweek, even if it meant working longer hours, according to a survey released in February by cloud-software vendor Qualtrics. 

"It’s been more than a general shift. It’s been a complete game-changer," Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, previously said of the pandemic’s impact on work culture.

O’Connor told FOX Television Stations how the five-day workweek is "very deeply and culturally and societally embedded and sometimes it takes a disruptor like the pandemic to dislodge something like that."

How is the pilot program assessed?

The four-day work week researchers leading the pilot program work with participating companies to establish relevant productivity metrics for each business, and to define what success looks like for them.

Those metrics are monitored throughout the trial, which can include certain variables like revenue, productivity, sick leave and employee turnover. Employees also fill out surveys related to well-being, stress, burnout and work-life balance. 

Additionally, the program has employees fill out time-use diaries to see how they’re using their newfound extra time.

"Are they living more sustainably? Is there a better distribution of household labor between women and men, and therefore is this having a huge impact on gender equity?" O’Connor previously explained to FOX Television Stations. 

8c663a56-Commuters Ahead Of Latest U.K. Employment Figures

FILE IMAGE - Morning commuters the city of London, U.K., on April 11, 2022. Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Could a 4-day workweek happen for all industries?

Organizers of the pilot program say one of the best misconceptions is that it means a universal day off for everyone. 

For a small minority of companies, such as an advertising agency tasked with delivering a particular project for a client within a certain timeframe, shutting down one extra day a week might not make a big impact in terms of profitability. But for a wider range of companies, such as sales or customer service-oriented businesses, that might not be an option.

"We’re not talking about the company moving to a four-day workweek, we’re talking about employees moving to a four-day workweek and different shifts and rosters and schedules, ensuring that you maintain coverage and service across the five days," O’Connor said.

Some companies have extended their services into evenings and weekends while moving their employees to a four-day workweek as a result of shifting schedules around, organizers say. 

In other words, the four-day workweek is flexible and not a one-size-fits-all model.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.