Workers are healthier, happier, and more productive with a four-day workday, a study reveals.
Fewer work days a week allegedly benefit employees’ health mentally and physically, a new study found, as the trend appears to pick up speed around the world.
Scientists are now revealing that a four-day workweek has various benefits that improve productivity and lifestyle, including lowering stress and anxiety levels, promoting better sleep, and providing more time for exercise.
“It genuinely has, even with our academic skepticism, been a really positive outcome,” report co-author Brendan Burchell, a social sciences professor at the UK’s University of Cambridge, who studies work’s effects on psychological well-being, told TIME.
By anaylsing the experiences of 61 companies and a total of about 2,900 employees who piloted shorter work weeks from June to December 2022, the report builds upon earlier research on the lifestyle and health benefits of working less.
Advocate organisations 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week Campaign as well as workplace research organisation Autonomy recruited businesses to participate in the study. Researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge, including Burchell, oversaw participant interviews, data collection, and analysis.
Companies participating in the study, the majority of which were based in the UK, were allowed to choose their own schedules as long as they “meaningfully” cut back on working hours without deducting pay.
All employees were given a day off on either Monday or Friday by more than half of the businesses that responded to the researchers’ surveys. Other businesses experimented with staggered schedules or shorter workdays throughout the week.
Employees’ average weekly working hours decreased over the course of the six-month pilot programme from 38 to 34—a little short of the desired 32—which suggests that some people either worked more on the days they were in the office or worked some on days off. Nevertheless, 71% of respondents reported they were working less than before the trial ended.
A four-day workweek equated to better health for many employees. 71% of respondents reported lower levels of burnout, and 40% of respondents claimed to have less work-related stress.
Meanwhile, more than 40% of workers reported improvements in their mental health, with sizable percentages of the group reporting declines in anxiety and depressive feelings.
Interestingly, nearly 40% of workers also reported improvements in their physical health during the pilot period, perhaps as a result of having more free time for hobbies, exercise, cooking, family time, and other pastimes.
Additionally, almost half of the workers reported feeling less exhausted than they had before the experiment, and 40% claimed it was simpler to fall asleep.
Burchell was concerned that shorter weeks would make people work harder or faster when they were supposed to be working, which might have been stressful enough to offset the advantages of having more time off for wellness.
But that doesn’t appear to have been the case, he claims. According to him, “people found all sorts of ways of working more efficiently, cutting out lots of the time they were wasting.”
In the end, 96% of workers indicated that they preferred four-day workweeks.
The change was advantageous to employers as well. Revenue rose by an average of 1% during the pilot period at the study’s participating companies, and absenteeism and employee turnover decreased. Nearly all of the companies participating in the programme said they intended to keep trying the four-day workweek, sometimes indefinitely.
The majority of workers stated that they would require a significant pay increase to return to work five full days per week, and 15% stated that no amount of money would persuade them to do so.
Juliet Schor, an economist, and sociologist who studies working hours at Boston College told TIME magazine that she is hopeful that other companies, including those in the United States, are beginning to recognise the advantages of shorter work weeks.
She claims that the rising popularity of “summer Fridays” and sporadic days off throughout the year indicates a growing acceptance of working less, which could lead to the widespread adoption of four-day work weeks.
According to Burchell, the pandemic also caused people to rethink what a workplace might look like.
“When I told people I was looking at work time reductions three years ago, people thought I was a bit utopian, a bit of a dreamer,” he said.
“Now, everyone’s talking about it like, ‘This is happening.’”