THE world of work has changed a lot since the year 2000.

Computers – and a reduction in the level of skill required to use them – mean that tasks that would once have taken hours to complete can be done in mere seconds with the click of a mouse.

Yet, since 2000, the average number of hours worked by a full-time employee in the UK each year has reduced by just 27.

More than 20 years of technological advancement have amounted to just three fewer days spent at work annually.

“We know that a lot of people feel that the balance between paid work and the time put into all the other creative, enjoyable things we can do with our lives isn’t right,” said Brendan Burchell, a professor of social sciences at the University of Cambridge.

“That ratio might have been correct 100 years ago but it’s no longer fit for purpose”.

The National: Humza Yousaf's trial of a four day work week in the public sector could help save families money on childcareHumza Yousaf's trial of a four day work week in the public sector could help save families money on childcare (Image: Jeff J Mitchell)

Burchell was part of the qualitative research team for the world’s largest four-day working week trial to date, conducted by independent research organisation Autonomy.

It saw 61 companies in the UK made up of around 2900 workers take part in a six-month trial between June and December last year.

The companies agreed to reduce employee working hours by 20% while maintaining 100% of their pay.

While, for many, this resulted in workers taking Fridays off, for others, it meant leaving earlier throughout the week or even having longer opening times in the summer months and shorter ones in the winter.

The results, so far, have been pretty conclusive: 92% of the companies in the trial have continued with the four-day week, with 18 companies confirming that the change is permanent.

READ MORE: Alba leads list of most popular French baby girl's names

“These companies were rejoicing about the outcomes,” said Burchell.

“They continued to grow, sick leave was down dramatically, and many workers reported feeling less stressed.

“Plus, it’s not just like it was a reward for the bosses or the shareholders.

“It’s a reward shared by everybody and therefore we had people reporting increases in efficiency, as people came up with innovations to enable them to do their job better in four days instead of five.”

While some businesses and organisations in Scotland have already switched to the four-day week – including the Scottish Greens – they remain, by some margin, in the minority.

But the Scottish Government’s plans to bring in a four-day working week trial for some public sector workers may mean that the movement to dramatically change the lives of workers is gaining momentum.

'There's only so many more trials we can see...'

Joe Ryle is the director of the 4 Day Week campaign, which advocates for a four-day week and supports organisations in the transition.

He told the Sunday National that although he welcomes the trial by the Scottish Government, the proof of the benefits of a four-day week was already stacking up.

“I congratulate the Scottish Government for being really bold and clear on this,” he said.

“At the same time, we’ve had promises from them before about four-day week trials and they’ve never really materialised.

“Trials are an important first step in continuing to build up the evidence base.

“But pretty much everywhere we’ve seen these trials and pilots across the world, it’s been a win-win for workers and businesses.

“There’s only so many more trials we can see before we’ve got to accept its rollout across the wider economy.”

The story of Vault City Brewing

One Scottish business that has already made the change is Edinburgh-based sour beer company Vault City Brewing.

Richard Wardrop, head of marketing at Vault City, said the benefits of a four-day week to the personal lives of their employees could not be under-estimated.

“We have one staff member who’s in a long-distance relationship,” he said.

“It’s meant they could spend more time with their partner.

The National: The team at Vault City Brewing have had a four day work week for more than a year The team at Vault City Brewing have had a four day work week for more than a year (Image: Vault City Brewing)

“For another employee from Czechia, it’s meant she could travel and do a lot with very little annual leave.

“Even for myself personally, it’s been great. I live in Glasgow, which, along with remote working, means I only have to commute through to Edinburgh three days a week.”

Burchell said that other people in the Autonomy trial listed saving money on childcare or being able to look after their elderly parents in a different city as among the benefits of a four-day week.

Naturally, many businesses may have concerns that a four-day week simply wouldn’t work within their sector. For example, factories operate on vastly different timeframes than most offices.

But Wardrop said that even with a process as time-sensitive as brewing, Vault City has been able to make it work.

“It was spectacularly easy to make the change for our office staff,” he said. “But on the production side, it was a little more challenging.

The National: Staff members at Vault City Brewing say the four day week has been transformativeStaff members at Vault City Brewing say the four day week has been transformative (Image: Vault City Brewing)

“Beer often doesn’t play by the rules, especially the beer we make. It’s mixed fermentation, which needs to be monitored quite closely.

“Still, we’ve made it work. I’m happy to say that since January 2022, we’ve been a permanent four-day week employer.

“That’s while we’ve essentially tripled production in the last twelve months. This year, we’re producing about 1.4 million litres of beer”.

There’s no use predicting how the Scottish Government’s trial will turn out. However, as Burchell noted, trials in the public sector are likely to attract criticism.

“We’ve seen figures like Jacob Rees-Mogg or groups like the TaxPayer’s Alliance attack the four-day week, particularly a trial undertaken by South Cambridgeshire District Council.

“They were vicious in their criticism. Work ethic runs deep in this country and working long hours once showed what a virtuous person you were.

“There’s always been this antagonism between organisations like the TaxPayer’s Alliance and the public sector, who promote the idea that workers there are lazy and don’t offer as much value for money as in the private sector.

READ MORE: Scottish monument sprayed with Saltire leads to investigation

“I think they viewed the four-day week as an easy target. They thought they’d get people riled up about these lazy council workers not emptying their bins. But that’s not really what happened.”

Instead, as more organisations make the switch to a four-day week, it’s likely that organisations who attempt to recruit workers on a five-day schedule will struggle.

“It’s one of those changes you’re better off doing early on,” added Burchell.

“Because as more and more businesses take up a four-day week, those still working five days will be seen as dinosaurs.

“Of course, there are people who want to change the world and work 24/7 and they can still do that.

“But for the vast majority of people, the most positive and meaningful times of their life occur outside of work.”

There’s a contagious element to it, Burchell added. If enough companies take up the practice, there’s no vaccine Conservative politicians can roll out to stop it.

He said: “If all your neighbours are working four days a week, you’d feel a right mug going in on a Friday, wouldn’t you?”