A pilot project into the implications of a four-day working week, involving more than 70 companies and 3,300 workers has just been launched In the United Kingdom. This is the biggest study following the one carried out a few years ago in Iceland which was an overwhelming success, to the point that by last year 86% of workers in this island State are either working less than 40-hours or shorter weeks. Similar trials are running in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

In contrast, the Maltese government has so far rejected this idea. A proposal by UHM Voice of the Workers for a study was shot down on the grounds that the country “is not yet ready for such a move”. According to Finance Minister Clyde Caruana the government would be willing to discuss four-day work week only when worker productivity and skillsets would improve. Moreover, he hinted the government would be against a situation whereby a shorter work week would not be introduced across the board for all employees.

UK study

The UK trial of the four-day week is being organised by 4 Day Week Global, along with the think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign. Researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College who will be collecting and analysing the results. Participants in this scheme are to work four days a week instead of five but receive the same pay as before. Under this project, workers need to increase their productivity by 25% daily to compensate for the fact they are working a day less each week.

One such example is Pressure Drop Brewery of the UK,  a micro-enterprise who is participating in this pilot study by offering a four-day week to its nine employees.  Company co-founder Sam Smith told the BBC that the challenge to produce and package the same amount of beer as in four days instead of five would be addressed by making use of the natural downtimes. He noted that being more productive did not necessarily imply being faster at the task you are doing.

The move towards a shorter working week has been catalysed by Covid-19 which caused overnight disruptions in work patters that had been established and unquestioned for decades. However, it also heralded more flexibility. Those in favour of a four-day week insist this would be a giant leap to achieve a better work-life balance, reduce risk of burnout and consequently improve the quality of life.

While the feedback received so far has been very positive, the idea of a four-day week might not suit every profession and every job. Questions have been raised on whether productivity levels can improve in sectors like healthcare, entertainment and the manufacturing industry. Researchers have acknowledged that it could be difficult to see how doctors and nurses treat more patients in less time, barmen pour more pints of beer in a day, or a machine operator becoming more efficient. However, the solution is not to ditch the concept entirely as evidence shows that this is feasible in some sectors, even in the manufacturing industry.