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Which countries have tried a four-day work week? Most companies in UK trial opt to keep it

Of UK companies that took part in the pilot, 51% say they have made the change permanent (PA Wire)
Of UK companies that took part in the pilot, 51% say they have made the change permanent (PA Wire)

Just over half of the UK companies that participated in the world’s biggest trial of the four-day working week have decided to keep it.

As well as the 51% that have made the four-day week permanent, more than 89% of the organisations involved in the six-month trial still have the shorter week structure in place.

In 2022, 61 UK organisations agreed to participate in the pilot, in which teams completed 100% of their workloads in 80% of their usual work hours.

The results of the study, released by the pilot’s organisers, overwhelmingly found that the four-day week structure had positive effects.

The report also revealed that 100% of managers and CEOs consulted in the follow-up confirmed that a four-day week was either “very positive” or “positive”. And 82% said the move improved staff wellbeing, 50% reported reduced turnover and 32% said it made recruitment easier.

Earlier this year, the Scottish government announced plans to try out a four-day week in its public sector.

South Cambridgeshire District Council has similarly decided to keep its four-day week for over 700 of its staff.

Despite the mounting trial successes and positive effect on staff wellbeing, last year the UK government warned that it opposed its councils introducing a four-day weeks.

“We are extremely concerned South Cambridgeshire District Council continues to experiment with taxpayers’ money by offering full time pay for part time work,” Lee Rowley, the local government minister, said last July.

“We have been clear that the Government does not support the so-called four-day working week and, despite issuing clear guidance, this council has chosen to ignore it.”

However, the four-day week is more common worldwide than people think.

Which countries have tried a four-day work week?

Many countries have tried a four-day work week. Here are some of them.

Belgium

In 2022, the Belgian government introduced labour reforms that allowed workers to choose a four-day working week.

They are allowed to request a six-month trial from their employers, and have the option to switch back to five working days if they decide that it is not for them.

"The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time," said the Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo.

Iceland

One of the largest four-day work week pilots was in Iceland; it involved 2,500 employees and took place between 2015 and 2019. It was considered a success and employees said their wellbeing, along with their work-life balance and productivity, was greatly improved.

The decision to cut down hours from as many as 40 to around 35 or 36 was hailed extremely successful.

Japan

There are a number of companies in Japan that have experimented with four-day work weeks, including Microsoft and Panasonic in 2019 and 2022.

But in 2021 the Japanese government’s annual economic policy guidelines recommended that companies let employees opt for a four-day work week, giving them a three-day weekend.

Portugal

Owing to the success of other trial programmes in Europe, Portugal has joined the non-profit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global. As part of a government-funded pilot announced at the beginning of June, some 40 private companies signed up to take part.

Companies have been following the "100:80:100 model" – 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintaining at least 100 per cent productivity.

Lithuania

In 2022, Lithuania began its four-day work week for new parents only. It was done to address a persistent gender pay gap, which tends to widen once women have children.

It was done in recognition of the fact that during this period women often cut back on hours, while men usually devote more time to a higher-paying job.

South Africa

More than 500 employees at 28 companies participated in South Africa’s four-day work week trial, which ran from March to September.

The experiment was being run by 4 Day Week South Africa, a branch of 4 Day Week Global.

Which UK companies have a four-day week?

Some companies known to have tried a four-day work week include:

  • Hutch

  • Tyler Grange

  • We Are Purposeful

  • Infigo

  • Awin

  • Dunelm

  • Camlas

  • Bex Design and Print

  • PR Dispatch

  • Springbok AI

  • London Landmark Hotel

  • Atom Bank

  • Network Rail

A full list of UK organisations that have a four-day working week can be found here.