In Britain, a new test of an old dream - the four-day work week

Working from home during the pandemic has been the main factor driving the growing momentum for a shorter work week. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - Thousands of employees across 70 companies in Britain started the first day of a four-day work week on Monday (June 6), a pilot programme that is the latest test in a decades-long quest to scale back workers' hours while they earn the same amount of pay.

The six-month trial was organised by non-profit groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and Autonomy, an organisation that studies the impact of labour on well-being.

Researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College will assess the effect of the shorter work week on productivity and quality of life, and will announce results in 2023, the organisers said in a statement.

The programme in Britain follows similar efforts in other countries, including Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. More than 3,300 workers in banks, marketing, healthcare, financial services, retail, hospitality and other industries in Britain are taking part in the pilot, the organisers said.

The data will be collected through interviews and staff surveys, and through the measures each company uses to assess its productivity.

"We will be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life," said Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor, the lead researcher on the project.

The four-day work week has been a workplace dream for decades. In 1956, then US Vice-President Richard Nixon predicted such an arrangement in the "not too distant future".

But the reality has been unevenly implemented globally over the years, said Prof Schor, who is also leading research into other trials. Individual companies have tailored their approaches, particularly as the pandemic upended traditional work culture.

In the US, some companies allowed employees to trim their work week by cutting out Fridays, working hybrid shifts, taking pay cuts for fewer hours, or setting their own timetables.

Working from home during the pandemic has been the main factor driving the growing momentum for a shorter work week, Prof Schor said.

"It made employers realise they could trust their workers," she said.

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