A four-day week? UK trials offer hope

STORY: British skincare maker Five Squirrels has been taking part in a trial that could change the face of work.

Since last year, employees have worked four days a week, while getting paid for five.

To keep up output, workers don't pick up phones, they ignore emails and instant messaging is turned off for four hours a day.

Gary Conroy is a Co-Founder of Five Squirrels, and he said the approach helped his 15 staff beat targets.

'What we saw was that actually people were smashing through the targets and they were getting much, much higher, and overall we had a 40% increase in all the metrics that we were measuring generally across the board. But that ultimately led in a sort of 40% uplift in revenue and profit during that six month period. So we were delighted."

Conroy put the boost down to fresher workers making fewer errors.

And the experiment is just one of a number of trials of four-day working.

They have drawn interest from economists who believe it could be a solution to one big problem.

Productivity - in the sense of economic output per hour worked - grew at an average of around 2% a year in Britain from the 1970s.

But in the decade after the 2008 global financial crisis it averaged just 0.75%, with similar drops in other industrialised countries.

Now the Bank of England forecasts it will be near zero over the next few years, partly due to new red tape since the exit from the European Union.

But getting five days' work done in four could give the figures a big boost.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve is an economics professor at the University of Oxford.

He argues there is a moral case to try something new when many workers report poor mental health.

"Frankly, it's been about almost 100 years since we moved to the five day week or two day weekend and Ford was probably one of the first proponents of this, I think it was 1926 and so it's about high time. I do think that we start thinking more cogently about next steps in that larger arc of progress."

Five Squirrels was one of 61 UK-based companies to take part in the trial.

56 have stuck with the policy since, as the majority said productivity and performance were maintained.

But, for some, there was a need to work longer hours during the four working days, and that meant they did not manage to cut a full eight hours from their week.

Even so, many workers seem to be on board:

"I love it, I can't even lie. It's really easy to notice, you're quick to notice how much, like, stuff changes when you start the four day week.

"Yeah, we're coming up to a year now and that has just absolutely flown by. So five day working week? Not for me."