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Thousands of British workers are trying out a four-day workweek

Several nonprofit groups are sponsoring a nationwide test this week.
Morning commuters on London Bridge in the City of London on May 16, 2022.
Morning commuters on London Bridge last month.Jason Alden / Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 3,300 British workers are trying out a four-day workweek, part of a global movement to test a strategy seen as potentially improving business and health outcomes.

Approximately 70 companies in the U.K. have agreed to take part in the six-month trial, spearheaded by 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week U.K. Campaign. The two nonprofit groups aim to improve productivity and work-life balance.

“The U.K. is at the crest of a wave of global momentum behind the four-day week," Joe O'Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, said in a statement. “As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge."

The six-month trial comes with no loss of pay for workers as long as they maintain the same level of output even as they reduce their schedules by 20 percent, organizers said.

“The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business," said Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, a savings and loan group that lends to nonprofits and that is participating in the pilot program. "We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission."

An American university will be among the institutions monitoring the U.K. trial run. Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, said she is working with 4 Day Week Global to measure companies' and employees' output and job satisfaction and the environmental impact as they participate. Schor has also studied other four-day-week trials that have taken place in the Canada, Ireland and the U.S.

"The preliminary data is that it has really positive changes on stress levels, burnout, physical and mental health, overall life satisfaction, and reduction in working time," she said in an interview.

While most companies that are participating employ white-collar workers, Schor said, businesses in the manufacturing and restaurant sectors have begun to show interest in four-day weeks, especially as they cope with larger staffing challenges.

"It's gaining momentum," she said.

Efforts to test a four-day workweek in North America are also underway, including a 38-company pilot that kicked off in April. Among the companies participating is the crowdfunding group Kickstarter, which had begun an independent experiment last year.

“It’s really about, if our time and attention is focused as best as it can be in those four days, can we have a more potent impact on the things that we care about from a professional standpoint," CEO Aziz Hasan told CNBC last July. "Does it open up more range for us personally?”

Meanwhile, a group of California state legislators have attempted to introduce it in the state, though it has mostly stalled in the face of opposition from business groups that say it would hurt jobs.

Attempts in Spain and Scotland have been more successful. There, Schor said, governments have stepped in directly to subsidize company hours.