Staff allowed to choose working hours in new trial

Hundreds of British workers will soon have greater flexibility over their working hours as part of a new pilot by the official four-day week campaign.

This six-month project, building on the initial 2022 trial, will explore various flexible working models, including flexible start and finish times, a nine-day fortnight, and compressed hours.

Six businesses have already signed up, with the campaign aiming to involve around 3,000 employees and 50 companies. Supported by the UK’s largest union, Unison, and several major firms, the trial aims to enhance work-life balance and productivity. However, some companies have previously abandoned the four-day week after initial trials.

Joe Ryle, the campaign’s director, noted, “Hundreds of British companies and one local council have already shown a four-day week with no loss of pay can be a win-win for workers and employers.” Backed by research from Cambridge University and Boston College, the latest trial includes participants like Welsh community housing landlord Bron Afon Community Housing. Director Unji Mathur expressed her admiration for the positive impact on organisational performance, employee wellbeing, and retention.

The campaign group reported that “at least” 54 of the 61 companies that participated in the initial trial have continued with the four-day week a year and a half later.

Four-day week: Hit or miss?

Sophie Greaves, a research chemist in Liverpool, appreciates the flexible start and end times her job offers. She can start anytime between 07:00 and 10:00 and finish eight hours later, which she finds beneficial for managing her own time. “People really are productive if they can manage their own time,” she says.

However, not all experiments with reduced working hours have been successful. Asda recently shelved a four-day week trial after staff found the longer shifts too demanding. Their plan had store managers working 45 hours across four days, which proved unpopular compared to other parts of the trial involving a five-day, 39-hour week.

Similarly, Morrisons ended its four-day week trial at its corporate office in Bradford in January. Staff were required to work 37.5 hours over four days with occasional Saturday shifts. Joe Ryle commented that this was “not really a four-day week,” which he defines as 32 hours across four days.

Conversely, some countries are exploring extended workweeks to boost productivity. Greece recently introduced a six-day working week for specific industries, offering workers a 40% pay increase for overtime. This policy applies to businesses operating 24-hours a day and is optional for workers.

Mr Ryle plans to present the results of this second trial to the newly-elected Labour government next year. “With a new Labour government, change is in the air and we hope to see employers embracing this change by signing up to our pilot,” he said.