Four-day week in Great Britain: Companies launch pilot scheme

John Boot is an integral part of Britain’s industrial history. The man who once ran the Boots pharmaceutical empire is now seen as a pioneer of a new kind of working hours. In the early 1930s he became a “pioneer of the five-day week” on the island. Faced with clear overproduction at his plant at the height of the Great Depression during those years, he decided to cut production without laying off workers.

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Therefore, he told the 5,000 workers who had been regular until then not to come to work on Saturday mornings. Their wages are still paid in full. Instead of working five-and-a-half days a week, Boots people worked only five days a week without loss of income. Gradually, other institutions followed suit, and the five-day week caught on with the British – as elsewhere in the Western world.

The Four-Day Week: Positive Effects on Capital and Labour

A study by Birmingham University professor and mining engineer Sir Richard Redmayne concluded that the reform had largely positive effects on both capital and labour. The study found that employees working at these sites have more time off, better health, happier employees and less absenteeism. At Boots, the opportunity to relax over a long weekend led to “personal improvement and enjoyment of work” both physically and mentally.

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Nearly a century later, those changes are beginning to be recalled in the boat’s homeland. Meanwhile, as many reform-minded institutions have announced, it is time for a new and more radical step. A pilot project was recently launched on the island to provide information on whether the working week could be shortened further. Those involved believe the time has come to switch from five to four days a week.

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Friday is set to become the new Saturday, an extra “holiday” in the UK. Or the work is the same and distributed differently on different days of the week.

A four-day week should be tested for six months

70 small and medium enterprises with a total of about 3,300 employees are supporting the trial, which is scheduled to run for six months. It involved a London brewery, a fish and chip shop in Norfolk, a computer game development company, various construction companies, academic institutions, marketing and food companies and the Royal Society for Biology, which has 35 employees.

The project was organized by the non-profit group 4 Day Week Global in collaboration with researchers from Oxford, Cambridge and Boston Universities and an autonomous think tank. Along with their idea they talk about the “100:80:100 model” – meaning that participants get 100 percent pay for 80 percent of the work as long as they ensure 100 percent productivity.

“Fitter” and “less tired” than before

Wyatt Watts, team leader for fish and chips at Plattons in Norfolk, said: “I was skeptical at first when I heard he had to get the same pay for less work, but now realizes he’s “not so broke” and does much better when he has more time to “recharge”. Other participants in the program also feel “bitter” than before and feel “less tired” when they go to work.

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I was skeptical at first when I heard that it would pay the same for less work.

Wyatt Watts, Platten’s team leader

In this respect, the four-day week program is entirely in the tradition of the John Boot reform of the last century. Mass unemployment at the time provided the impetus for shorter working hours, this time directly related to better quality of life and more energy.

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After all, the nature of work has changed significantly over the past three decades, explains the Financial Times’ labor expert Sarah O’Connor. By this O’Connor means a new level of concentration through the introduction of new technologies, increased pressure in many industries, greater demands from customers, the need for faster production and delivery – in short: “intensification” of work everywhere.

More time for family thanks to the four-day week

Additionally, according to actor and author Stephen Fry, the pandemic and the home office are “disrupting” traditional work lives and allowing for new thinking. Fry, who has found himself a key “poster boy” for the four-day-week campaign, points out that fewer working days in companies or offices would generally reduce commuting time, thus reducing emissions, and also free up more time. For the family.

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Andrew Barnes, who started the 4-day-week-global campaign, says: “Basically, we’re using work methods that were developed 100 years ago in the context of repetitive manufacturing processes. We’re using them for the 21st century. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Barnes suspects that in just five years, the majority of British entrepreneurs will be working shorter hours. His campaign points out that there are already individual cases where it apparently works. For example, a large call center in Glasgow, which works for the likes of Google and the National Health Service, recently introduced a four-day week for its 350 employees. Since then, call center manager Lorraine Gray says, productivity has increased by nearly 30 percent. Fewer employees now resign each year than ever before. And sick leave went to “almost zero.” In the past, Gray says, people “had to make an appointment if they needed a few hours to do something.” Now they get extra days off to do those things.

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Fear of a split in the workforce

But doubters certainly exist. Economists such as Robert Skidelsky believe that something like this is not possible in all sectors of the economy: “It certainly cannot be regulated by law, all over the country.” Rather than looking for fewer jobs — “Especially in the gig economy, you often need. Multiple jobs to survive.” The gig economy refers to areas of work that are mainly employed by part-time workers and freelancers.

In the Sunday Times, renowned economist David Smith expressed concern that the introduction of the four-day week by individual firms would divide workers into those who would benefit from the development and those who would not. Still, Smith finds the pilot program interesting: “If it proves successful, it could be a great new tool for recruiting.”

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