What’s the story?

Starting on June 6, some 70 companies and more than 3000 employees across the UK will participate in the largest ever trial of a four-day week, which will run until January of next year.

Coordinated by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the British think tank autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, the pilot programme will run alongside similar schemes taking place in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

All those taking part will work one day less a week, whilst receiving their usual level of pay. The trial hopes to determine the impact of these reduced hours on factors such as productivity, worker well-being, the environment and gender equality.

Why a four day week?

According to 4 Day Week Global, the conventional five day week is “a relic of a now distant era … “but it persists because it is mistakenly believed to be optimal for the economy. It isn't.”

Advocates of a four-day week argue that this change in our working pattern would deliver as much, if not more productivity whilst also improving the work-life balance of workers, with additional benefits for their families and their communities.

Whilst the idea has long been proposed by reformers, more serious international interest in the four-day week was spurred by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and the upheaval it caused in the working lives of so many.

Has any country adopted a four day week?

In February, the Belgian government introduced legislation which would enshrine the right of workers to choose a four-day week if they wished, as well as the right to turn off work devices and ignore out-of-hours messages from their employers without fear of reprisal.

Introducing the labour reforms, Belgian prime minister Alexander de Cross said: "We have experienced two difficult years. With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital.”

What about Scotland?

According to a poll released in September 2021, the four-day week is overwhelmingly popular with people in Scotland, with more than eight of 10 supporting its introduction.

Following a campaign promise by the SNP, the Scottish Government has committed to a further trial of the four-day week, due to begin in 2023. Companies participating in the trial will receive roughly £10 million in financial support from the Scottish Government.

Rachel Statham, senior research fellow at the think tank IPPR Scotland, commented at the time: "The Scottish Government is right to be trialling a four-day working week because today's evidence shows that it is a policy with overwhelming public support, and could be a positive step towards building an economy hardwired for wellbeing.

"But any successful transition post-Covid-19 must include all kinds of workplaces, and all types of work. The full-time, nine-to-five office job is not how many people across Scotland work - and shorter working time trials need to reflect that reality.”

Critics have also pointed out that employment law remains reserved to Westminster; dreams of a four day week being made permanent in Scotland may not come true until that power is devolved, or independence is achieved.