Thousands of British workers will take part in a four-day week trial in what is thought to be the world’s biggest pilot scheme.
More than 3,000 employees at 60 companies will take part in the scheme, running from June to December and examining the impact of shorter working weeks on conditions and productivity. The pilot exceeds the 2,500- member programme conducted in Iceland by the government and the council of the capital city, Reykjavik.
It will be managed by academics from Oxford and Cambridge universities and Boston College in the United States, in partnership with the 4 Day Week Global campaign group, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and the think tank Autonomy.
The pandemic, coupled with record vacancies, has prompted many firms to re-evaluate flexible working conditions to retain and attract staff. The number of vacancies reached a record 1.3 million between December last year and February, though it has begun to slow, the Office for National Statistics said.
The aim is to allow employees to work full-time for four days rather than five, with no loss of pay. The main reason organisations are embracing it is to retain staff in a competitive jobs market and attract new talent, according to Kyle Lewis, co-director of Autonomy.
The Royal Society of Biology, the professional association, is among the latest to join the pilot, along with Pressure Drop, a London brewery, and Platten’s, a Norfolk fish and chip shop.
Yo Telecom, the computer games developer Hutch and MBL Seminars, a training provider, are among the businesses who had already signed up.
The five-day week was adopted in 1932 in the United States to combat the number of people unemployed following the Great Depression. The idea was that working for a shorter period would enable more people to remain in jobs. It arrived in Britain when John Boot, chairman of the Boots the chemist, moved to a five-day working week in order to cut redundancies in 1934. In the 19th century factory workers were expected to work every day but Sunday.
Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, said: “The pandemic has taught many of us that long-standing working practices can change rapidly, including the reliance on physical office space . . . The four-day week pilot is a fantastic opportunity to challenge another long standing truism — that to deliver quality you must work long hours.”
The society, which has 35 employees, will remain open five days a week but staff will be split between Monday to Thursday and Tuesday to Friday shifts.
Atom Bank, the smartphone-based lender, became the biggest UK employer to shift away from the traditional five-day week when it moved the majority of its 430 employees to a four-day week in November last year.
Leanne Kemp, chief executive at Everledger, a technology company which is taking part in the pilot, said flexibility has always been important to the start-up but the scheme offers a framework for how to manage the shift to a shorter working week. “Regardless of our staff’s job type, geography or leadership level — a four-day working schedule will improve the overall health and productivity of both the company and employees,” she said.
Joe O’Connor, chief executive of the 4 Day Week Global campaign, said employers are increasingly focusing on “quality of outputs, not quantity of hours.”