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4-day workweek doesn't hurt productivity — and it could help reduce global warming

Rows of men and women at an office at open desks staring at computers.
Image Credit: Wix

73 companies are a part of an ongoing experiment in Britain: a 4-day workweek. Currently, at the halfway point, the experiment will last for 6 months, over the course of which, employees get a paid day off each week.

So far, most companies say it's going well. In fact, in some cases, the companies have seen significant improvement in output according to a survey of participants published on Wednesday.

According to The New York Times, 35 of the 41 companies that responded to a survey said they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider continuing the four-day workweek beyond the end of the trial in late November.

All but two of the 41 companies said productivity was either the same or had improved. Remarkably, six companies said productivity had significantly improved.

In addition to improving productivity, past research shows that a 4-day workweek could also improve climate mitigation efforts by lowering emissions related to commuting and other work-related practices like frequently eating out for lunch.

Evidence from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts suggests that a 10% reduction in working hours would have a ‘scale effect’ of reducing the ecological footprint by 12.1%, and the global carbon footprint by 14.6% annually.

The lower emissions would mostly be seen on the side of transportation. Researchers from the University of Reading found that dropping one working day could decrease the number of miles driven by employees traveling to work by 558 million each week. Given that over half of the 26.5 million working people aged 16 – 74 in England and Wales drive themselves to work, this could make a substantial difference.

The benefits are limited to emissions. As the Times, “some leaders of companies in the trial said the four-day week had given employees more time to exercise, cook, spend time with their families and take up hobbies, boosting their well-being and making them more energized and productive when they were on the clock.”

The companies in the pilot program range from – but aren’t limited to – banks, marketing, and health care to financial services, retail, and hospitality.

While some companies note that it’s too soon to see if it has affected their bottom line, private sector experiments in other countries like the United States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia, have had similar results. A trial conducted in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2016 found employees completed the same amount of work or more.

On the emissions side of things, the carbon-saving opportunities of a four-day working week expand across electricity, commuting, and household consumption. This underline shows every little can help in the race to net zero.

Some researchers theorize that the majority of climate-related benefits of a 4-day workweek will be seen in our social culture, with the switch, hopefully enhancing the possibility of social change and awareness through an industry-wide step for a more sustainable economy.

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