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Oxford researchers to lead 4-day work week trials

Humza Jilani reports.

After a year that has seen skyrocketing numbers of resignations, the surging popularity of working from home, and corporate rethinks during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are scrambling to hold onto talent and avert the worst of the so-called Great Resignation. 

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge might have found a solution: a 4-day work week, which is set to be piloted at up to 30 companies throughout the United Kingdom. Similar tests are expected in the United States and elsewhere.

Participating companies will slash work hours from 40 hours a week to 32, and will closely monitor any changes in productivity and employee satisfaction. The trials will launch in June 2022 and last for six-months. The trial is also expected to cover issues such as corporate environmental footprints and gender equality, reflecting a feeling from companies that the growing concerns of employees and activists have to be addressed. 

The U.K. version of the trial is overseen by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit pushing for shorter work weeks and improved labor rights, in partnership with researchers from Oxford, Cambridge, and Boston College. Researchers will analyze data about productivity, interview participating companies, and think of metrics to measure the overall success of the program. 

Researchers and advocates hope that the trials will produce an informed report that can be used as a template for companies thinking of making the switch. They also hope to use the report to sway the opinions of policymakers. Already, France is pondering a 32-hour work week, which would be a reduction from the country’s 35-hour work week.  

Advocates hope to show that reducing working hours to four days, without cutting pay, will result in the same productivity and economic returns for corporations. There is some anecdotal evidence that reducing hours can counterintuitively increase productivity and staff retention, thereby saving costs for companies, as well. 

Campaigners argue that cutting work hours can easily be achieved by cutting down on meetings and relying on technology to sort through workloads. One of the biggest hurdles that supporters hope to overcome is perception. Previous trials have had mixed results, owing to the different needs of specific sectors. There are also fears that shortening the work day would come with a cut in worker compensation, potentially creating new problems for workers and exacerbating burnout. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to surging interest in their work, as the explosion of work-from-home policies led to a broader reconsideration of norms in the Western office culture. 

The trials are the culmination of four years of organizing and advocacy by the 4 Day Week Global, founded by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart. According to their website, they’re committed to finding solutions to improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, strong families and communities, and promote gender equality. They claim that the five-day work week emerged from organizers seeking to reduce the previous six-day norm a century ago. They see their own work as the successor to that movement. 

Image: Israel Andrade

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