A UK 4-day week study is showing lasting positive effects on worker productivity and wellbeing. How are people spending their “free day” and what impact has it had on their life so far? Plus tips on how freelancers can arrange their workload to enjoy a 4-day week.
The world’s largest trial of a 4-day week in the UK has got off to a successful start and is showing initial positive results. CNN Business questioned employees and participating companies: Many do not want to go back to the long working hours after the test phase – that’s how successful the reduction in working hours has been so far. Those that saw phenomenal results were more likely to use that free day each week to enrich their lives and well-being or get the most out of their weekends.
Since June 2022, 3,300 employees in 70 companies and organisations in the United Kingdom have been working 80 per cent of their normal working hours and receiving full pay. The trial is one of a number of experiments investigating the effects of shorter working hours.
For example, the biggest trial to date of a 4-day week in Iceland was an overwhelming success. Field trials also started in Ireland or Scotland. CNN Business checked in with the participating British companies in early August and found similar success: The majority of employees want to keep the reduced working hours even after the end of the test phase. This is because employees are already feeling the benefits after the past eight weeks, or as one participant in the trial describes it:
“THE FIVE-DAY WEEK IS A 20TH CENTURY CONCEPT THAT IS NO LONGER SUITABLE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.”
UK 4-day week trial: Work shorter hours for the same salary
The trial is organised by 4-Day-Week-Global, together with the think tank “Autonomy”. Researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Boston College are accompanying the field trial. They are studying the impact of shorter working hours on productivity, employee well-being, the environment and gender equality. Employees are expected to follow the “100:80:100 model.”
They receive 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time. In return, they are expected to try to maintain 100 per cent productivity. The trial is to run from June to November when companies can decide whether to stick with the new working hours model or return to longer hours.
The new daily routine is “phenomenal”
After the first eight weeks, CNN Business checked in with several companies and learned from some employees that they are already “feeling happier, healthier and doing their jobs better.” Lisa Gilbert, a manager at a credit provider, for example, describes the new routine to CNN Business as “phenomenal” and “life-changing.” She says she can really enjoy the weekend because she can now use Fridays to get housework or other obligations done – without feeling guilty.
Other respondents say the extra day made it possible to “pursue new hobbies, fulfil long-standing ambitions or simply invest more time in their relationships,” according to CNN Business. While some employees used the time to take cooking classes or piano lessons, others went fishing, exercised or devoted themselves to volunteer work.
For example, Mark Howland, marketing and communications director at a charity bank, told the online magazine:
ON MY DAY OFF, I’D GO FOR PRETTY LONG BIKE RIDES, TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, TAKE TIME OFF, AND THEN HAVE THE WHOLE WEEKEND TO DO THINGS AROUND THE HOUSE AND SPEND TIME WITH FAMILY.Mark Howland
Shorter meetings, more concentrated work
The changeover was not smooth everywhere. At one London PR agency, it was even “really chaotic,” as Managing Director Samantha Losey recounts. But after two weeks, her team has developed successful methods to achieve the same results in the shorter time available. These include shorter meetings and periods for more focused work. She expects 75 per cent of the company will be able to maintain productivity over the course of the six-month experiment – allowing them to keep the four-day work week.
THE TEAM IS FIGHTING INCREDIBLY HARD FOR THIS SO FAR.Samantha Losey
This finding is also consistent with the evaluation in the Icelandic experiment. There, it was also shown that the most effective methods were very specifically adapted to the respective workplace: for example, fewer or shorter meetings or a better distribution of tasks between the staff members. The nursing staff changed shift patterns and some offices closed earlier on Fridays because there was less to do.
💡How freelancers can arrange their workload into a 4-day week
Set a time limit on social media
This set amount of time should include personal time and work-related posting. If you are looking at social media as you are enjoying your morning cup of tea, coffee or green juice you need to account for that time as your daily social media “spend”. You can easily determine the right amount of time spent on social media by calculating how much social media is part of your freelance work. If you have to post often then use apps, like Hootsuite, to schedule these across multiple social media platforms so you can save time and be a consistent poster.
Distance yourself from distractions
- Keep your mobile phone away from your immediate reach and turn off those annoying pings while you are working.
- Dedicate certain times of the day to reply to emails. Advise your clients when these times are so they do not think you are ignoring their messages. Let them know they can call you if anything is urgent.
Stop multi-tasking and get a to-do list app
- Keep to one task at a time to get it ticked off your to-do list. This method should boost your productivity levels and help you prioritise deadlines. Having a digital to-do list app can help and will help you feel a sense of accomplishment once each task is ticked off will help you keep motivated.
Take 2 X 15-minute breaks each day plus a “mindful” lunch
- If you are working within the parameters of school hours, some of your working days could be eaten up by the daily school runs, so this may mean getting up an hour earlier each morning so you can fit in certain tasks or exercise in the morning before the household wakes up and when you have fewer distractions. This can justify taking some much-needed breaks during the day after you have completed tasks.
- Many freelancers that work from home are guilty of having a “working lunch” whereby they eat and work at the same time. If you really are limited on time, then try making an effort to at least have a couple of days each week enjoying a mindful lunch away from work. Eat outside for a change of scenery. You’ll often find that you are more productive after that lunch break. However, be mindful that certain foods with high “flour” carbohydrates or sugars could give you a sugar rush followed by a sugar low. This could mean you’ll be falling asleep at your computer soon after you’ve eaten, which will hamper your productivity levels. Top 10 energy boosting lunches | BBC Good Food
Delegate what you can to save time and make more money
- If you can delegate certain tasks to others so you can spend more of your time making money, then look into it. This could mean hiring a cleaner to take over domestic chores or a parent helper on certain days to watch the children or another dependent, such as an elderly parent. Hire fellow freelancers on freelancer platforms to do non-core business tasks or even handle your research, bookkeeping, and social media management
Spend less time on admin, get paid on time
- Create invoice and payment reminder templates to save on admin.
- Steps freelancers can take to get paid on time