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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
February 2, 2022

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Working hours

Could a four-day working week improve employees mental health and wellbeing?

A trial of a four-day working week has launched in the UK in a bid to measure whether employees who work less are more productive and have better mental health and wellbeing. 

officeAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shift the global work model, potentially for good, there have been increased talks surrounding the benefits of a shorter working week.

With longer working hours, stress and anxiety damaging both our physical and mental health, it’s safe to say that many would likely welcome a shorter working week.

Around 30 UK companies will be taking part in a six-month trial of a four-day working week starting in June, where employees will be paid the same amount as if they were working their usual five days.

The UK companies taking part are understood to include software firms and a medical non-for-profit, with the number of employees ranging from 20 to more than 100.

The pilot scheme – run by the 4 Day Week campaign, think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College – will measure whether employees can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time.

Similar trials are also taking place this year in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, while the Scottish and Spanish governments are also set to launch pilot schemes this month.

Joe O’Connor, Pilot Programme Manager at 4 Day Week Global, argues: “More and more businesses are moving to productivity focused strategies to enable them to reduce worker hours without reducing pay.

“We are excited by the growing momentum and interest in our pilot programme and in the four-day week broadly.

“The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’, to a sharper focus on the output being produced.”

As part of the pilot, researchers will work with each participating organisation to measure productivity, the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

SHP recently conducted a poll on LinkedIn, asking readers if they believe a four-day working week would improve their overall mental health.

Of the 199 people who interacted with the poll within three days of it being live – 87% of respondents said yes, they do believe it would improve their mental health, and 13% said no.

Multiple studies have suggested that shifting to a four-day week would boost the wellbeing of employees.

From 2015 to 2019, workplaces in Iceland ran two large-scale trials of a reduced working week from 40 hours to 35-36 hours, with no reduction in pay.

Anaysis of the results was published by think tank Autonomy and research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy in July 2021.

The trials, involving 2,500 employees, were deemed an “overwhelming success”, with 86% of the country’s workforce now working shorter hours.

The report found that the wellbeing and work-life balance of employees had dramatically increased, with fewer instances of stress and burnout.

Graham Alcott, whose firm Think Productive in Brighton and Hove morphed the five-day week into four told ITV News: “What we’ve found over the last few years is that our people don’t burn out, we have a really good rate of growth within the business and, for me, that’s because of the four-day week.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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