The Garrulous Jay – Four Day Fantasies

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The results are in from “the world’s largest four-day working week trial to date”. As the Executive Summary of The UK’s four-day week pilot proudly declares, “the trial was a resounding success”. But my team are going to be disappointed because I’m not convinced.

Let me begin by saying that I think increasing people’s ability to work more flexibly in terms of days and hours, as well as location, is a good thing.

Having said that I find the credibility of this report highly questionable.

For a start the ‘success’ of the trial is judged by the number of companies that will continue with a four-day week once the trial period ends. In other words, it starts with the assumption that a four-day week is a positive and seeks to prove it.

This assumption pervades the interpretation of the data throughout the report. Perhaps no surprise given the report is published by Autonomy, an independent research organisation whose “aim is to pursue ecological futureproofing, real freedom, equality and human flourishing.” The sponsors are the 4 Day Week Campaign Ltd and 4 Day Week Global: there’s a clue in the names!

Then we have the issue of the sample size for the “world’s largest trial”. 61 companies and around 2,900 workers. That’s 0.0088% of the UK working population (Source: Statista, December 2022). Of these employees, only 1,377 completed the endpoint survey allowing for a comparison between how they felt before and after the trial.

Also, 34% of the companies in the trial were in Advertising/Marketing or Professional Services, compared to just 13% in Manufacturing, Construction and Engineering. That’s just 8 companies in the latter grouping. Perhaps no surprise then that the gender split was 62% female and 37% male.

Next there’s the question of the trial itself… Was six months long enough? Did the economic backdrop in the trial period influence responses? And how did the “two months of preparation for participants” affect the outcome?

Then we have the survey results themselves which, like every set of statistics, are clearly open to interpretation. Some examples…

71% of employees reported a decrease in working time in the trial period.
• Or, over a quarter of employees reported working the same hours or longer in the trial period.

Work time declined from 38 hours per week on average to 34.
• Or, the four-day week trial resulted in work time falling by just 10%.

39% of employees were less stressed.
• Or, 61% of employees reported no change in stress (48%) or were actually more stressed (13%).
• This also begs the question, why were these employees stressed in the first place?

I could go on but space does not permit. Let’s look at how this success has been achieved.

As the Cambridge University covering article points out, “Interviews documented how companies reduced working hours without compromising on targets. Common methods included:
• shorter meetings with clearer agendas
• introduction of interruption-free ‘focus periods’
• reforming email etiquette to reduce long chains and inbox churn
• new analyses of production processes
• end-of-day task lists for effective handovers or next-day head starts.”

This has nothing to do with the 4-day week, and everything to do with common sense best practice.

I will end with my favourite statistic…

15% of employees reported “no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule” after the trial.
• Or, the sample included people who are clearly not telling the truth.