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The biggest test of the 4-day workweek changed their lives: “It’s phenomenal”

(CNN Business) –– The workers are tired. More than two years into the pandemic, many are suffering from burnout, have quit their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet as record levels of inflation take a huge chunk out of their wages.

But over the past eight weeks, thousands of people in Britain have put to the test a four-day work week — with no pay cuts — that could usher in a new era at work.

This is the largest trial of a four-day workweek in the world to date. Some workers already report that they feel happier, healthier, and perform better at their jobs.

The 4-day work week “changes your life”

Lisa Gilbert, Loan Services Manager at Charity Bank, a provider of ethical loans in the South West of England, calls her new routine “terrific”.

“I can really enjoy my weekend now because I have Friday for housework and my other things or… if I just want to take my mom for a walk, I can do it without feeling guilty,” she told CNN Business.

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Lisa Gilbert, Loan Services Manager at Charity Bank, enjoys her extra day off with a trip to HMS Belfast on the Thames in London.

Gilbert cares for his son and his two elderly parents. Having another day off a week means he no longer has to go to the market at 6am on Saturday morning and he can spend more time with his family.

“Now I’m saying ‘yes we can’ instead of ‘no, sorry we can’t,'” he said.

The six-month pilot involves 3,300 employees at 70 companies who have committed to work 80% of their regular workweek in exchange for maintaining 100% productivity.

The program is run by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit think tank, and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign in partnership with researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and Boston College.

The researchers will measure the impact of the new work pattern on productivity levels, gender equality, the environment and the well-being of workers. At the end of November, companies can decide whether or not to establish the four-day work week.

But for Gilbert, the verdict is in: it has been “life changing,” he said.

“genuinely chaotic”

However, the transition has not been without setbacks.

4-day work week, benefit of the pandemic? 0:45

Samantha Losey, CEO of Unity, a public relations agency in London, told CNN Business that the first week was “genuinely chaotic” as her team was not prepared for shorter work deliveries.

“To be totally honest, those first two weeks were really a disaster. We were very disorganized. I thought I had made a big mistake. I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.

But his team quickly found several ways to make the change work. Now, the company has banned all internal meetings longer than five minutes, mandated that all client meetings be no longer than 30 minutes, and introduced a “traffic light” system to avoid unnecessary distractions. Colleague workers have a light on their desk and turn it “green” if they’re happy to talk; “amber” if they are busy but available to talk, and “red” if they don’t want to be interrupted.

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Unity, a public relations agency in London, has set up a “traffic light” system: employees have a light on their desk that turns “green” if they want to talk; “amber” if they are busy but available to talk, and “red” if they don’t want to be interrupted.

Losey said that by week four his team had gotten back on track, but admitted there is an “absolute” chance he could revert to a five-day schedule if productivity levels drop over the course of the six-month trial.

“There’s a good 25% chance we can’t keep it, but the team so far is fighting incredibly hard to make it,” he added.

“like a library”

Before the trial in Britain, Iceland had conducted the world’s largest pilot test of a four-day work week. Between 2015 and 2019, the country tried the model twice with 2,500 public sector workers.

In essence, the Iceland tests found no corresponding drop in productivity, but a dramatic increase in employee well-being.

Gary Conroy, founder and CEO of 5 Squirrels, a skincare manufacturer on the south coast of England, has built in “deep work time” to ensure his employees stay productive.

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Gary Conroy (right), founder and CEO of 5 Squirrels, a manufacturer of skin care products, has established “deep work time” at his company to improve productivity.

For two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon, Conroy’s staff ignore emails, calls, or Teams messages and focus on their projects.

“The whole place looks like a library. And everyone just puts their heads down and struggles to get the job done,” he said.

People spend most of their day busy with work management tasks, according to a survey of 10,600 workers, which Asana conducted last September. The company of software found that employees in the United States spend about 58% of their day on activities like answering emails and attending meetings, rather than doing the job they were hired to do.

Conroy noted that company meetings used to be a “talk shop” but are now capped at 30 minutes. Also, they are only allowed in the two hours outside of “deep work time”.

The results have exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“[El equipo] began to realize that they were moving forward with projects that they always put on the backburner,” Conroy said.

The 4-day work week “fits the 21st century”

The extra day off has allowed room for many workers to take up new hobbies, pursue long-standing ambitions, or simply spend more time on relationships.

Workers in the trial took cooking classes, piano lessons, volunteering, fishing and skating, their bosses told CNN Business.

For Unity Account Manager Emily Morrison, who has struggled with anxiety for much of her adult life, the benefits have been more fundamental.

“Having more downtime and less ‘Sunday dreads’ over the weekend has helped improve my mental health and face the week with a more positive attitude, rather than being stressed,” she told CNN Business.

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Emily Morrison is Account Director at Unity, a public relations agency in London.

After more than two years of the pandemic, dozens of workers have reached their limit. Last year, a McKinsey survey of 5,000 global workers found that nearly half reported feeling at least somewhat burned out.

Losey said one of the main reasons he decided to sign Unity up for the pilot was to offset the “extraordinary level of burnout” his staff faced during the worst of the pandemic.

Mark Howland, Director of Marketing and Communications for Charity Bank, told CNN Business that he uses his day off to improve his health and fitness.

He has always wanted to compete in a triathlon, but feels guilty about spending time away from his family to train. Not anymore.

“With my day off, I’ve been going for long bike rides, taking care of myself, taking some time off and then having the whole weekend to do things around the house and spend time with family,” Howland said.

It is unlikely that the bank will go back to the way it was before.

“The five-day work week is a 20th century concept, which is no longer fit for the 21st century,” he said.

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