How the world’s largest four-day workweek trial changed people’s lives

But, over the past eight weeks, thousands of people in the UK have trialled a four-day schedule – with no pay cut – that could help usher in a new era of work.

Lisa Gilbert, head of loan services at Charity Bank, an ethical loan provider in the South West of England, describes her new routine as “phenomenal”.

“I can really enjoy my weekend now because I have my Friday for my chores and other odds and ends or…if I just want to take my mom for a walk, I can do that now without feel guilty,” she told CNN Business.

Gilbert takes care of his son and his two elderly parents. The extra day off per week frees her from shopping at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings and allows her to spend more time with her family.

“I find I’m saying ‘yes we can’ as opposed to ‘no sorry we can’t,'” she said.

The six-month pilot project commits 3,300 workers from 70 companies to working 80% of their usual week in exchange for the promise of maintaining 100% of their productivity.

The program is run by the non-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, Autonomy, a think tank and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign in partnership with researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and from Boston College.

Researchers will measure the impact the new working model will have on productivity levels, gender equality, the environment as well as worker well-being. At the end of November, companies will be able to decide whether or not to stick to the new calendar.

But, for Gilbert, the verdict is already in: it was “life changing,” she said.

“Really chaotic”

The transition, however, was not smooth.

Samantha Losey, managing director of Unity, a public relations agency in London, told CNN Business that the first week has been “really chaotic” with her team unprepared for the shorter work transfers.

“To be completely honest with you, those first two weeks – really a mess. We were all over the store. I thought I had made a huge mistake. I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. she declared.

But his team quickly found ways to make it work. Now the company has banned all internal meetings longer than five minutes, limits all meetings with customers to 30 minutes and has introduced a ‘traffic light’ system to avoid unnecessary disruption – colleagues have a light on their office and set it to “green”. if they are happy to talk, ‘orange’ if they are busy but available to talk, and ‘red’ if they don’t want to be interrupted.

Unity, a public relations agency in London, has set up a
By week four, Losey said, her team had hit full stride, but admits there’s “absolutely” a possibility she could revert to a five-day schedule if productivity levels drop during the week. six-month trial.

“There’s a 25% chance we won’t keep it, but so far the team is fighting incredibly hard to get it,” she said.

“Like a library”

Until last month, Iceland had led the world’s largest pilot of a four-day working week. Between 2015 and 2019, the country subjected 2,500 of its public sector employees to two trials.

Crucially, these trials found no corresponding drop in productivity – and a dramatic increase in employee well-being.

Gary Conroy, founder and CEO of 5 Squirrels, a maker of skincare products on the south coast of England, has implemented “extensive working time” to ensure his employees stay productive.
Gary Conroy (right), founder and CEO of 5 Squirrels, a manufacturer of skincare products, established a

For two hours every morning and two hours every afternoon, Conroy staff ignore emails, calls, or messages from Teams and focus on their projects.

“The whole place looks like a library, and everyone lowers their heads and crushes work,” he said.

According to a survey by Asana last September of 10,600 workers, people spend most of their day doing “work” — or working for work. The software company found that workers in the United States spend about 58% of their day on activities such as answering emails and attending meetings, rather than doing the job they were hired to do.

Conroy said meetings at the company used to be a “discussion workshop” but are now limited to 30 minutes and only allowed during the two hours outside of “deep work time”.

The results exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“[The team] started to realize that they were crushing projects that they had always put on the back burner,” Conroy said.

“Ready for the 21st century”

The extra day allowed many workers to take up new hobbies, achieve long-held ambitions, or simply invest more time in their relationships.

The trial workers took cooking lessons, piano lessons, volunteering, fishing and roller-skating, their bosses told CNN Business.

For Emily Morrison, an account manager at Unity who has struggled with anxiety for much of her adult life, the benefits have been more fundamental.

“Having more downtime and fewer ‘Sunday scares’ over the weekend has helped improve my mental health and approach the week with a more positive attitude, rather than being stressed out,” a- she told CNN Business.

Emily Morrison is an Account Manager at Unity, a PR agency in London, UK.
More than two years into the pandemic, dozens of workers have reached their limit. A McKinsey survey of 5,000 workers worldwide last year found nearly half said they felt at least somewhat burnt out.

Losey said one of the main reasons she decided to enroll Unity in the pilot was to compensate for the “extraordinary level of burnout” her staff were facing during the worst of the pandemic.

Mark Howland, director of marketing and communications at Charity Bank, told CNN Business that he is using his day off to improve his health and fitness.

He always wanted to participate in a triathlon, but felt guilty spending time away from his family to train. Not anymore.

“With my day off, I take long bike rides, take care of myself, take time off and then have the whole weekend to do things around the house and spend time with my family” , Howland said.

It is unlikely that the bank will return to the current situation.

“The five-day work week is a 20th century concept, no longer fit for the 21st century,” he said.

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