UK businesses trial four-day working week

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London (AFP) – Louis Bloomsfield inspects beer kegs at his north London brewery, looking forward to June when he will have an extra day off every week.

The 36-year-old brewer plans to use this time to get involved in charity work, start a long-awaited particle physics course and spend more time with his family.

He and his colleagues at the Pressure Drop brewery are taking part in a six-month trial of a four-day working week, along with 3,000 other people from 60 UK companies.

The pilot project – touted as the largest in the world to date – aims to help companies cut working hours without cutting wages or sacrificing revenue.

Similar trials have also taken place in Spain, Iceland, the United States and Canada. Australia and New Zealand are expected to start theirs in August.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, program manager at 4 Day Week Global, the campaign group behind the trial, said it would give companies “more time” to tackle challenges, experiment with new practices and collect data.

Small organizations should find it easier to adapt because they can make big changes more easily, he told AFP.

Pressure Drop, based in Tottenham Hale, hopes the experience will not only improve the productivity of its employees, but also their well-being.

At the same time, it will reduce their carbon footprint.

The Royal Society of Biology, another participant in the trial, says it wants to give employees “more autonomy over their time and their work rhythms”.

The two hope a shorter working week could help them retain employees, at a time when UK businesses are facing severe staff shortages and vacancies hitting a record 1.3million.

Not all pink

Pressure Drop brewery co-founder Sam Smith said the new way of working would be a learning process.

“It will be difficult for a business like ours that has to operate constantly, but that’s what we’re going to experience in this trial,” he said.

Brewery bosses hope it will improve employee productivity as well as their well-being Justin TALLISAFP

Smith is considering giving his employees different days off during the week and splitting them into two shifts to keep the brewery running.

When Unilever trialled a shorter working week for its 81 employees in New Zealand, it was only able to do so because no manufacturing takes place in its Auckland office and all staff work in sales or marketing.

The service industry plays a huge role in the UK economy, contributing 80% of the country’s GDP.

A shorter workweek is therefore easier to adopt, said Jonathan Boys, a labor economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

But for sectors such as retail, food and beverage, healthcare and education, it is more problematic.

The boys said the biggest challenge will be how to measure productivity, especially in an economy where a lot of work is qualitative, as opposed to that of a factory.

Indeed, since the wages will remain the same in this trial, for a company not to be a loser, the employees will have to be as productive in four days as in five.

The trial will involve some reorganization of rotations to keep the brewery running
The trial will involve some reorganization of rotations to keep the brewery running Justin TALLISAFP

Yet Aidan Harper, author of “The Case for a Four Day Week,” said countries that work fewer hours tend to have higher productivity.

“Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands work fewer hours than the UK but have higher levels of productivity,” he told AFP.

“In Europe, Greece works more hours than anyone else, yet it has the lowest levels of productivity.”

“Recruiting a Superpower”

Employees in the UK work around 36.5 hours a week, compared to their Greek counterparts who work more than 40 hours, according to database company Statista.

Phil McParlane, founder of Glasgow-based recruitment firm 4dayweek.io, says offering a shorter working week is a win-win solution, and even calls it “a hiring superpower”.

His company only offers four-day weekly jobs and flex jobs.

They have seen the number of companies looking to hire through the platform jump from 30 to 120 over the past two years, as many workers reconsidered their priorities and work-life balance amid the pandemic.

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