A 4-days working week benefit employees and companies

The latest data from the UK confirm that the four-day working week benefits employees – it boosts their satisfaction and productivity and allows a better work-life balance overall – and companies – among other things, for example, it reduces turnover. Moreover, it helps the economy by decreasing unemployment and improving levels of mental health, thus positively affecting societies at large.

This February, exactly one year after the first results of the world’s most prominent trial to date, Autonomy, the independent think tank that conducted the study, presented the new evidence from the UK. The latest results corroborate the previously highlighted trends. Of the 61 organisations that took part in the project in 2022, 98% of them are still operating the shorter working week policy, and 51% even made the change permanent. 

From introduction to implementation

Since introducing a new practice is one thing, but modifying and maintaining operating ways in the long term is quite another, the published results come in handy by offering evidence of the positive lasting impacts of shorter working week programmes. 

“The key point is that the strong findings at six months are not due to novelty or short-term impacts. These effects are real and long-lasting”, commented Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College and one of the research authors. 

Work smarter, not harder, more flexibly and more effectively. It has evident upsides. According to analysis, 100% of managers and CEOs participating in the follow-up study agree that “the four-day week had a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ impact on their organisation.” Questioned about what a shorter week has changed, “82% of surveyed companies reported a positive impact on staff well-being. 50% saw positive effects on reducing staff turnover, and 32% said the policy has noticeably improved their recruitment.” 


Due to reduced work weekdays, employees recorded improvements in physical and mental health, work-life balance, a generally better quality of well-being and lower levels of burnout. Those more personal advantages were accompanied by increased efficiency, productivity and focus at work.

And as the study found, the benefits go beyond individuals or single companies. Many mentioned that more time spent with friends and caring for family or loved ones has helped improve the quality of relationships and allowed some to take on volunteering activities outside work. Compared to the previous study, lower work intensity and higher job satisfaction than before the pilot began in 2022 have been noted. Asked about the activities they were doing on their days off, today as well as last year, the workers were mostly focused on care responsibilities, hobbies and needed chores to enjoy more free time on the weekend. 

Some argue that a shorter week can lead to a more intense schedule and reduce time for social activities in the office. Moreover, since the shift goes beyond just timing and schedules, significant efforts are needed to adjust, and substantial investments are put into technology, training, and monitoring that may represent a novelty for some companies. 

Beyond the UK

The four-day working week is not gaining attention only due to COVID-19 restrictions and the rise of new models in the job market. This arrangement has surely increased recently but has been attracting interest even before. In the last couple of years, it has brought unions across Europe to call for discussions and implementation at national levels. While, for the most part, governments are hesitant to adopt it officially, some are offering nationwide trials or programs. And success stories are piling up.

The desire and the demand are there, as shown by the survey of the 4 Day Week Campaign. It found that 78% of UK workers wanting a shorter working arrangement, another 52% actively seeking this type of employment and 58% of the public expecting it to become the standard within 2030. But the trend is really global, with examples, best practices and data accumulating. According to a 2022 study by Adecco, for instance, of the 30,000 employees interviewed in 25 countries, 54% considered or already reduced the hours worked. 51% even if that meant a cut to their salary. 

Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted the world’s most extensive pilot of a 35 to 36-hour workweek without pay. This experiment was considered a success by researchers. It brought trade unions to negotiate a reduction in working hours. Today, 90% of workers have reduced hours or alternative arrangements, signalling reduced stress levels with improved work-life balance.

Belgium is home to the first national legislation on a four-day week, entered into force in November. The law allows employees to perform a full workweek in four instead of five days without losing salary. According to the Belgian prime minister, the model should help create a more dynamic economy, make the labour market more flexible, and allow people to combine careers and family life better.

Even if not ruled by national law, an ongoing government-funded pilot was announced last summer in Portugal. For context, the country with OECD’s third longest workweek (72% of people work over 40 hours).

Trials of shorter working weeks are being implemented or strengthened in Germany – where unions are demanding implementations or are negotiating it – and in Scotland and Wales – both have started pilot programs. 

Italian examples

In Italy, an increasing number of (mostly) big companies have been experimenting or already shifting to permanent arrangements in this sense. From Intesa Sanpaolo to the coffee company Lavazza and the car manufacturer Lamborghini, different types of examples are making the news more and more often. 

Among the others, the “bravest experimentation” is that of SACE, the Italian company founded and owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance that supports businesses and national economic growth. Their “Flex4Future” model, offers flexible hours, smart working arrangements that do not provide limited days of home-working, and allows a 4-day week, leaving freedom to choose which day off to take. No matter the specific choice, the number of hours remains almost the same (36 instead of 37.) 

No national law in Italy provides norms for implementing shorter working week models. Mostly, the proposed bills come from the opposition parties – even though not in a united way. For example, Sinistra Italiana (the Italian Left) request bringing the weekly work hours to 34 without salary cuts. PD’s proposal (the Democratic Party) does not provide a specific limit regarding hours. It leaves it to collective bargaining to define the alternatives but offers incentives whenever experimental contracts include shorter working hours. 

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