Four-Day Week Trial Hailed as Success

Results of a major four-day working week trial are encouraging for any employer considering the reduction in days as a way of preventing employee burnout.

The shorter workweek has also been hailed as a way of improving efficiency and lower staff turnover, both of which can save companies money, as well as promoting workforce satisfaction. And the trial, in the U.K.’s largest public sector, tends to confirm the positive outcomes.

The South Cambridgeshire District Council, in eastern England, started the initial four-day workweek trial in January 2023 for its desk-based staff only, in an attempt to reduce quitting and avoid hiring costly agency staff.

In September of that same year, it extended the program to its waste team, allowing them to work 80 percent of their contracted hours for 100 percent of their pay.

The expectation was that they’d still complete 100 percent of their work. And, according to a recent study of the trial, which ended in March 2024, the workforce met that target.

England Trash Collection
A street cleaner empties public litter bins in England’s Southend-on-Sea. A large U.K. trial of the four-day workweek, involving refuse collectors as well as desk workers, has proved largely successful.

John Keeble/Getty Images

Experts at the universities of Cambridge and Salford, who monitored the trial involving about 450 desk staff and refuse collectors, found that employee performance, as measured by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) improved in 11 out of 24 areas, while there was little to no change in 11 others. Only two areas saw staff performance worsening.

Additionally, staff turnover fell by 39 percent, saving the council £371,500 a year—a little over $475,000—and reducing total recruitment demands.

Employees also took faster decisions: staff determined householder planning applications about a week and a half earlier than they used to do before the trial was introduced, the study found. And 15 percent more major planning application decisions were completed within the correct timescale during the trial than they did before.

Most importantly, the shorter workweek hugely benefited staff members’ well-being. The academics’ study found that employee commitment improved from -4 to +4; mental health from -4 to +6; physical health from -3 to +7; and motivation from -2 to +4.

Newsweek contacted he South Cambridgeshire District Council for comment by email on Monday.

But, despite the positive outcomes, the South Cambridgeshire’s trial has proved highly controversial in Britain. In July 2023, the outgoing conservative local government minister, Lee Rowley, had asked the district council to end the trial “immediately,” citing concerns over residents getting “value for their money.”

This is one of the major concerns around introducing the four-day workweek: would productivity drop when we cut capacity? While the South Cambridgeshire’s experiment appears to have been successful, there are others who had introduced similar trials around the world who got mixed feedback.

Some companies in the U.K. did not extend their trials, to avoid discrimination, after figuring out that employees in certain roles just couldn’t reduce their working days.

The results of the South Cambridgeshire’s trial, however, could bolster calls to introduce a four-day workweek in more U.S. companies.

An April poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for Newsweek found that, among 4,000 eligible U.S. voters, 63 percent of workers supported the transition to a four-day workweek, with 46 percent saying it enhances productivity.

A recent CNBC/Generation Lab poll of 1,033 people aged 18 to 34, a majority of 81 percent said they believe a shorter workweek would make them more productive.