Working four days, but getting paid for five – is this possible?

Working four days, but getting paid for five – is this possible?

Do think a four-day work week would work? According to new research, the answer is, “Yes, splendidly!”

First, a very brief historic backdrop:

How much we are supposed to be working has always been a topic for debate. Mid-19th century, a motion was presented in the Swedish government, suggesting that the workday should be limited to a maximum of 12 hours per day (and in those days, people worked six days a week). This suggestion did not win the government’s approval…

Since then, the statutory working hours in Sweden have been reduced gradually and at the beginning of the 1970s, it was down to eight hours per day, five days a week (exceptions made in certain professions and circumstances). In addition, the number of statutory annual leave weeks has increased and in 1978, this number had risen to five weeks. And that is more or less where we are still today.

What all these changes have in common over the last nearly 200 years, is that they have all been preceded by arguments about how difficult, or even impossible, it would be to implement them. Yet, they have been carried out and we seem to have coped quite well, both people, corporations and the country itself.

It is in the light of this last remark that we should perhaps view the result of a study which in February this year was presented by The University of Cambridge, UK in collaboration with Boston College, US, and the think tank and research organisation Autonomy. Over a period of six months, the researchers studied 61 different companies in the UK. These companies were from a number of different industries, had nearly 3,000 employees, and they all introduced a four-day work week, however with the same salary as before and still with eight-hour workdays.

The researchers describe this as the largest scientific project ever to be carried out to find out the effects of a four-day work week. So what were they able to conclude?

How were the employees affected?

  • Absence due to illness was reduced by 65 per cent.
  • 71 per cent stated that the risk of burnout had been reduced.
  • 39 per cent said they felt a lot less stressed.
  • The number of people resigning from these companies by choice was decreased by 57 per cent.
  • 60 per cent thought it had become easier to combine their work with other tasks in their lives.
  • 62 per cent expressed experiencing an improved social life.

What about the companies’ profitability?

  • None of the companies in the study reported a decrease in profitability. Most companies reported the same profitability as before the project started.
  • On average, there was actually an overall increase in profitability by 1.4 per cent among the participating companies.

So, what conclusions did the companies draw from the project?

  • 56 of the 61 participating companies promised to continue with a four-day work week after the project had ended.
  • 18 of the companies stated they would introduce the four-day week as a permanent solution.

Some other, less measurable conclusions presented in the study:

  • The employees themselves came up with measures and solutions that made their work more efficient, for example shorter meetings, the use of new technical means, avoiding unnecessary interruption, etc.
  • Some of the companies even introduced “uninterrupted time”, i e certain time periods when no one was allowed to disturb their co-workers, instead allowing them to focus and work in peace.
  • The companies also noticed that they received many more applications when they advertised positions. It simply became easier to recruit new staff.

This is not the only successful example of a four-day work week with maintained salary. In the last few years, several similar projects have been carried out, for example in the US, Ireland, Japan, Spain, New Zeeland and Iceland – all of which have rendered the same positive results, both for the individual employees and the company as a whole.

You might perhaps now be thinking that this whole idea of a four-day work week must be a rather new idea? In one way it sort of is, as it is only in recent years that real projects have been introduced with the aim to find out what advantages and disadvantages there really are. But, and brace yourself now, already in 1971 one of the Swedish Members of Parliament (Gunnel Jonäng, Member of the Centre Party, a liberal political party) presented a motion to set up a Committee to explore a four-day work week!

This is 52 years ago.

Change takes time. Some changes more than others…

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