British companies invited to join four-day week experiment

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Moving to a four-day week with no loss of pay may sound like a dream but for a small group of workers it’s about to become reality.

A pilot programme to test the hypothesis that reducing working hours increases productivity for businesses and wellbeing for staff is to be run in Britain.

Six companies, including the British arm of the Japanese company Canon, have signed up, and the organisers expect another 20 or more to join before the trial starts in the summer.

The project is being brought to the UK by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, New Zealand entrepreneurs who made their money in finance and law before becoming among the first to prove that asking staff to work fewer hours increased productivity.

They have established the 4 Day Week UK project in conjunction with the think tank Autonomy and academics from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Boston College.

Participants will run a four-day week with no pay cut for six months from June. The organisers say they are using the “100:80:100 model” — 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time in exchange for a commitment to at least maintain 100 per cent productivity.

Each company will work with academics from the three institutions to measure the impact on productivity and the wellbeing of staff, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality. The project leaders will publish the results of the trial next year and invite the government to examine it with a view to encouraging ministers to cap the working week at 32 hours.

Joe Ryle, the director of 4 Day Week UK, said: “As we move out of the pandemic and build back better many people want an improved work-life balance. One hundred years on from winning the weekend, we believe a four-day week is long overdue. And we believe this project will show it is a win-win for businesses and employees.”

Several studies have suggested that moving to a four-day week boosts output. When Microsoft trialled a four-day week with no loss of pay at its Japan office, productivity was reported to have gone up by 40 per cent.

In November Atom Bank became the largest British employer to introduce a four-day week, with all 430 staff moving to a 34-hour working week.

The biggest company to sign up to the pilot scheme is Canon Medical Research Europe, based in Edinburgh, which has 140 employees.

Ken Sutherland, its president, said: “We recognise that working patterns and the focus that we all give to our work-life balance has changed substantially during the pandemic.

“As a responsive employer we are always looking at how we can adapt our working practices to ensure that employees find their time with us meaningful, fulfilling and productive. For this reason, we’re keen to pilot a four-day week to see if it works for us.”

The organisers say that more than 100 companies, mostly small and medium-sized enterprises, have expressed an interest in joining the trial, but they expect some bigger firms to sign up.

Kyle Lewis, co-director of Autonomy, said: “Any company interested in taking part has until the end of March to sign up.”

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