How much of today are you going to spend thinking about what you’re going to do this weekend? Well, imagine a world where that Thursday feeling signified the last day of the working week – and Friday’s were the first day of a three-day weekend.
That’s the reality for over 3,000 workers at 60 companies across Britain whostarted a six-month trial of a four-day week on Monday. Think of it: they’re probably asleep right now.
It’s not the first scheme of its kind – but it is the biggest one to take place in the world. So how does it work? And how can businesses operate while losing 20% of their staff’s working hours? I’ve spoken to Joe Ryle, the campaign director of the 4 day week UK campaign, and Mark Howland, director of marketing and communications at Charity Bank – a business taking part in the trial – about how it’s going and what we’ll learn from the experiment. I’ll get to that, after the headlines.
Five big stories
Ukraine | Two British men and a Moroccan national captured fighting in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol have been sentenced to death by pro-Russia officials. Russia is believed to be using the process in part to put pressure on the UK and may seek a prisoner exchange.
Conservatives | Boris Johnson could face the prospect of another no-confidence vote within a year after Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, refused to rule out changing the rules.
Brazil | The sister of a British journalist missing in the Amazon has said she still has hope he will be found. Sian Phillips led a vigil for her brother Dom as newspaper editors, led by the Guardian and Washington Post, called for more action to investigate his disappearance with Indigenous affairs official Bruno Araujo Pereira.
US politics | The chairman of the House select committee investigating the deadly Capitol attack has said Donald Trump was at the centre of a sprawling conspiracy to overturn the election that culminated in an “attempted coup”.
Smoking | The legal age to buy tobacco in England should rise from 18 by one year every year until eventually no one can buy it, a government-commissioned review has said. Ministers are said to be sceptical about implementing the review’s most radical suggestions.
In depth: Why a shorter week could be ‘a matter of when, not if’
View image in fullscreenThe growth of flexible working has accelerated in the pandemic. Photograph: Dimitri Otis/Getty Images
The pandemic has turbocharged change in the way we engage with our jobs. Flexible working is now the norm for many, commutes are still below pre-pandemic levels and companies are weighing up options for cutting office space. The future of work is up for grabs and campaigners and academics have seized on the moment to trial a four-day work week across the country. But will it stick?
Joe Ryle thinks a shift is long overdue: “It’s been 100 years since the move from a six-day work week to five.” That it hasn’t happened yet is baffling to Ryle: working hours have barely reduced in the UK since the 1980s. “We’re all on smartphones now, we’re working 24/7. We are much more productive than we were in the past but those productivity gains haven’t been passed on to workers in terms of more free time,” Ryle says.
And workers are feeling it – a US survey found that burnout is on the rise in the US, up from 43% in 2020 to 52% in 2021. This is part of what the four-day week seeks to address: a core tenet of the campaign is working smarter, not longer.
“I think there’s a very strong case for shorter working hours in the UK,” says Ryle. “Workers feel stressed, they feel overwhelmed and that’s why the policy is so popular.” A poll conducted by Savanta ComRes found that 60% of adults support a four-day week.
You might think that’s simple self interest. But a growing number of businesses seem to be seeing the same thing: Ryle says that the campaign was “swamped and inundated” with interest from companies when it was announced. “Over 500 companies registered their interest in taking part, there was more than we could actually deal with,” Ryle says.
What does it mean for workers?
In terms of the trial itself, there’s no one size fits all rulebook – so in truth not all will have started a long weekend today. The companies enrolled have discretion to adapt their policies and schedules to fit around a world that is still largely operating Monday–Friday as normal.
Charity Bank, an ethical savings and loans bank, is one of the 60 that were selected to take part in the trial. The change was met with excitement, albeit slight trepidation from employees – “everyone did wonder, ‘how am I going to get everything done?’” Mark Howland tells me. But their concerns were easier to address than you might think.
Howland says the first thing they did was cut out all unnecessary tasks, any needless travel and overly long bureaucracy. “We have shorter, more purposeful meetings,” he says, “we ask, ‘do we need a meeting? Do we need this many people to attend the meeting? Would an email suffice?’ We’re focused on activities that make the biggest difference.”
And they’re giving staff options about when they want the long weekend, whether that is Monday or Friday. That means there are always people working so the bank doesn’t need to shut down one day a week, and it also means there are three days where everyone is available to one another.
Workers feel trusted and valued, Howland tells me, and they’re already happier. And it benefits management too, of course. He is spending his extra day fulfilling a big goal of his: “I’ve always dreamed of doing an ironman triathlon. So on Monday I’ll be out on my bike and cold water swimming.” Someone else on his team is doing an MA in illustration, another is spending more time with his pregnant wife. “We’re just prioritising results and wellbeing over presenteeism.”
What does it mean for business?
So, if you’re working fewer hours, does that mean that you’re getting less done? Not so, says Ryle. In previous trials, the opposite was true. Happier employees are more productive he says:“if you’re better rested, you’ve had time for yourself and you become more motivated to do your job.” Not only did productivity not dip in the four-day week trial at Microsoft Japan, it increased by 40%. This also works in reverse: the more we overwork ourselves, the less we get done – “18 million working days were lost in 2019 through to 2020 because of work related stress, depression and anxiety,” Ryle says.
And there are some obvious ways that the scheme can help business – a four-day week reduces overheads (in the same Microsoft Japan trial, electricity costs fell by 23%, which, is significant, especially at the moment). Howland also hopes that this kind of flexible working will attract a more diverse workforce, and will make it far easier to attract and retain talented workers.
Will it work?
It’s easy to see the benefits of this campaign. But there are those who see serious issues with rolling it out across the country. In 2019 the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right thinktank, released research that estimated that a four-day week for public service workers would cost the taxpayer £17bn. They argue that shortening the work week before you increase productivity is “putting the cart before the horse”.
There are also risks, if the plans aren’t implemented thoughtfully, that people will end up working compressed hours, not reduced, leading to impossibly high workloads every day that increase stress and burnout. And some workers, like those on zero hour or precarious contracts, could be left behind and are unlikely to benefit from a four-day week.
But Ryle believes that these issues could be addressed through an engaged government legislating to ease the transition and ensure that all workers are included in the plans. For him, the days of dress-down Friday are numbered – it’s just a matter of when, not if. Howland is not so sure, but as the first week of the trial draws to an end, he’s happy to see the company he works for investing in its most important asset: the people.
What else we’ve been reading
Sirin Kale spent a day watching a Citizens Advice centre at work. The stories she hears are a stark indictment of the impact of the cost of living crisis. Archie
In this brilliant interview, Ben Beaumont-Thomas spoke with singer-songwriter Beth Orton about her first new album in six years, Weather Alive. The piece takes a look at grief, Orton’s diagnosis of Crohn’s disease when she was young and living in a new neighbourhood. Nimo
The trial of the Bataclan attackers ends this month. Madeleine Schwartz has been attending since September. Her diarised account of its proceedings is devastating in its lack of “a prescription that will explain how France can find some kind of closure”. Archie
Everyone is sick, Brigid Delaney writes, and we can’t stop talking about it. Delaney explores how, 2 years into a pandemic, our relationship to getting ill has transformed. Nimo
Rachel Aroesti skewers a tired TV trope she identifies as the Messy Milennial Woman: “a good-time girl who lurches from chaos to crisis, from euphoria to despair.” Archie
Golf | 17 golfers have been indefinitely banned by the PGA Tour for their involvement in the Saudi Arabian-backed rebel series that began at the Centurion Club on Thursday. One of those players, Ian Poulter, immediately said he would appeal.
Football | The head of Uefa’s safety and security department and the senior safety official at the Champions League final were not actively involved in the Stade de France control centre as the night descended into chaos, it has been claimed.
Cricket | Jack Leach has been named in England’s team for the second test against New Zealand after sustaining a concussion in the first match.
The front pages
View image in fullscreen Photograph: The Guardian
The Guardian is among many to feature the Britons sentenced to death by pro-Russia officials in what one MP called a “show trial” in Ukraine, but its lead story is “Low-paid workers ‘can’t afford petrol to get to work’”. The Telegraph has “Captured British fighters sentenced to death”, the i has “British men sentenced to death in ‘show trial’”, and the Daily Mail has “UK outrage as two Brits face firing squad”. The Daily Mirror has “Sentenced to death by Putin”, while Metro goes for “Putin’s pawns”. The Times focuses on the upcoming “summer of discontent” with the headline: “Drivers join rail strikes as ballots set to spread”. The Daily Express looks at Boris Johnson’s housing speech with “Millions given chance to buy own home”. The FT looks at the chancellor’s handling of the country’s debt with “Sunak lost £11bn of taxpayer cash in debt blunder, say economists”. The Sun says “Just like mum Diana” with a story about Prince William helping sell copies of the Big Issue.
Something for the weekend
Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now
View image in fullscreenThis image released by Disney+ shows Iman Vellani in a scene from the series “Ms Marvel.” (Disney+ via AP) Photograph: AP
Ms Marvel (Disney+)
“Only two episodes have been released for review, but they are glorious. The plot so far is slight. At the moment it is as much a real-life coming of age as a superhero origin story. Sixteen-year-old Kamala is an artist, vlogger and diehard devotee of the Avengers generally, and Captain Marvel specifically. We meet her enthusiastically narrating her latest animated story about them.” – Lucy Mangan
Angel Olsen – Big Time
“Angel Olsen’s albums swing from raw to symphonic, but there are always open wounds in her music that no amount of polished production can cauterise. The Missouri singer-songwriter has lost both her parents and come out as queer since we last heard her, and her elegant response is a luxuriant sprawl of orchestral folk rock.” – Damien Morris
“It has the intensively curated atmosphere of body-horror noir and some way into the running time you might yourself being awoken from its reverie of formless anxiety by a sudden, horrifying stab of violence. It’s a flourish of brutality whose meaning and motivation is never entirely revealed as the story loops mysteriously around and in on itself.” – Peter Bradshaw
Hot Money: Who Rules Porn?
“There is zero titillation as the FT’s Patricia Nilsson and Alex Barker investigate the finance and business of porn. In episode one, anonymous star Stoya sends them off to talk to the tech bros who revolutionised the industry by moving the action online for free – and put performers and producers in a vulnerable position.” – Hannah Verdier
Today in Focus
View image in fullscreen Photograph: Mint Images/Getty Images/Mint Images RF
Sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), also known as cot death, affects 200 families a year in the UK. Hannah Devlin reports on a new study that has raised hopes of an explanation for parents.
Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell
View image in fullscreenSteve Bell’s cartoon. Illustration: Steve Bell/The Guardian
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
View image in fullscreenFernanda the fantastic giant tortoise.
Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/PA
A rare Galápagos species, the “fantastic giant tortoise”, long thought extinct, has been officially identified for the first time in more than a century in what scientists called a “big deal” for the famed islands’ embattled biodiversity.
The animal is the first Chelonoidis phantasticus to be seen since a male specimen was discovered by the explorer Rollo Beck during an expedition in 1906. The newcomer has been named Fernanda, after the Fernandina Island, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galápagos Archipelago that she calls home.
“Everything that we knew about this species said it was extinct,” said Stephen Gaughran, an ecology and evolutionary biology researcher at Princeton University. “So it’s a big deal for a species that we thought was extinct for a hundred years to suddenly appear here.”
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