A four-day work week improves employees’ health in numerous ways, from reducing anxiety and stress to enabling better sleep and more time for exercise, according to a large new report.
“It genuinely has, even with our academic skepticism, been a really positive outcome,” says report co-author Brendan Burchell, a social sciences professor at the U.K.’s University of Cambridge who studies work’s effects on psychological well-being.
The report builds upon previous studies on the lifestyle and health benefits of working less by summarizing the experiences of 61 companies—and a total of about 2,900 employees—that piloted shorter work weeks from June to December 2022. Companies were recruited to join the study by advocacy groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week Campaign and workplace research group Autonomy, and researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge, including Burchell, oversaw participant interviews, data collection, and analysis.
Companies in the study, most of which were based in the U.K., were free to set their schedules however they wanted, as long as they “meaningfully” reduced working hours without docking pay. More than half of the companies that completed the researchers’ surveys gave all employees either Monday or Friday off, while others tried solutions like staggered schedules or shorter days throughout the week. Over the course of the six-month pilot period, employees’ average weekly working hours fell from 38 to 34—a bit shy of the target 32, which suggests some people either worked more on the days they were in the office or worked some on days off. Still, 71% of respondents said they were working less after the trial ended than before.
For many workers, a four-day week translated to better health. About 40% of respondents said they experienced less work-related stress, and 71% reported lower levels of burnout. More than 40% of employees said their mental health had improved, with significant portions of the group reporting decreases in anxiety and negative emotions.
Almost 40% of employees also said their physical health got better during the pilot period, perhaps because they had more time for hobbies, exercise, cooking, family time, and other leisure activities. Nearly half of workers also said they weren’t as tired as they were before the experiment, and 40% said it was easier to get to sleep.
Burchell feared that shorter weeks would force people to work at a higher pace or intensity when they were on the clock, which could have been stressful enough to negate the wellness benefits of having extra time off. But, he says, that doesn’t seem to have been the case. “People found all sorts of ways of working more efficiently, cutting out lots of the time they were wasting,” he says.
In the end, 96% of employees said they preferred four-day schedules.
The shift was positive for employers, too. Among companies in the study, revenue increased by an average of about 1% during the pilot period, and employee turnover and absenteeism went down. Almost all of the businesses in the program said they planned to continue the four-day work week experiment, in some cases indefinitely.
That’s a good thing, because most employees said they’d need a significant pay bump to go back to working five full days per week, and 15% said no amount of money would convince them to go back.
Researcher Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who studies working hours, says she’s optimistic that other companies, including those in the U.S., are waking up to the benefits of shorter work weeks. The growing trend of “summer Fridays” and periodic days off throughout the year, she says, points to a growing acceptance of working less—one that may culminate in four-day work weeks adopted at a wider scale.
The pandemic also made people reimagine what the workplace can look like, Burchell adds.
“When I told people I was looking at work time reductions three years ago, people thought I was a bit utopian, a bit of a dreamer,” he says. “Now, everyone’s talking about it like, ‘This is happening.’”
Write to Jamie Ducharme at email@example.com.