As digital technologies make possible new ways of working, increasing numbers of employers are implementing or trialling a four-day working week.

In collaboration with a major trial of the four-day week in the UK, run by the 4 Day Week Campaign, Digit researchers Professor Brendan Burchell and Dr David Frayne have investigated how such changes can be implemented practically and equitably – and by a broader range of industries.

The four-day week is a form of employment whereby employees work for four days a week as opposed to the traditional five (or a similar, ‘meaningful’ reduction in hours), whilst maintaining their regular ‘full-time’ pay and benefits.

The research aims to offer new insights into why companies are motivated to reduce working time; the role of technology; how it is implemented in practice; and the impacts of such changes for businesses and staff, including for productivity and staff wellbeing.

The report of the trial – for which Professor Burchell, Dr Frayne and their team conducted the qualitative research – was published in February 2023 by Autonomy. This was complemented by a quantitative survey conducted by Juliet Schor and her team from Boston College.

Professor Burchell and Dr Frayne are continuing this research, both to look at the longer-term impacts of those trials, and to extend their research into the public sector, working with the Scottish Government’s plans for four-day week trials.

In February 2024, a year-on follow-up report was published. Of the 61 organisations that took part in the 2022 UK four-day week pilot, at least 54 have confirmed that they are still operating the policy one year later (89%). In addition, at least 31 have made the four-day week permanent – 51% of all participating companies.

Method

The trial, which was conducted in the UK from June to December 2022, involved 61 companies and approximately 2,900 employees.

Professor Burchell, Dr Frayne and their team conducted in-depth interviews with employees and company chief executives before, during and after the six-month trial. This qualitative research allowed the researchers to go beyond surveys and examine how the companies were making things work on the ground.

Key findings from the trial

  1. Of the 61 participating companies, 56 are continuing with the four-day week (92%) and 18 (29.5%) confirmed that the policy is now a permanent change.
  2. 39% of employees were less stressed and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial.
  3. For 54% of employees, it was easier to balance work with household jobs.
  4. 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reported it was easier to combine work with social life.
  5. Companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4% on average, weighted by company size across respondent organisations. When compared to a similar period from previous years, organisations reported revenue increases of 35% on average, indicating healthy growth during this period of working time reduction.
  6. The number of staff leaving participating companies decreased by 57% over the trial period.
  7. 15% of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week to which they were now accustomed.

Research outputs

Researchers

University of Cambridge
University of Salford