Right now a general sense of uncertainty is sweeping the nation. Brexit, an obesity epidemic, the NHS at breaking point, global warming and unrealistic house prices are just some of the hurdles Britain currently faces. You only have to turn on the news to feel some major pangs of anxiety. The extreme level of chaos in our outer world is contributing to the rising chaos of our inner worlds. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74 per cent of the UK had felt so stressed in 2018 they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point.

Our country has achieved so much, but our fast-paced, financially driven collective mindset combined with our addiction to preoccupation has become a breeding ground for stress, anxiety and all other kinds of mental health issues. We’ve put so much of our energy into striving and competing that along the way many of us forgot about something rather important; our well-being. Michelle Obama summed it up well when she said “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list”.

So how do we do a better job when it comes to our well-being? Obviously each individual is responsible for their own health, happiness and overall well-being, but considering most UK adults spend eight hours a day, five days a week at work, it makes sense to make it part of the workplace. The Labour Force Survey estimated 15.4 million working days were lost in the UK due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. This figure alone proves it’s time for action.

Our company mission is to promote a healthier, happier society and that starts with our team. We are continually working to make our office environment a positive place to work. Last year we introduced a Memiah Wellness Initiative which includes weekly meditation sessions, group membership to our local trampoline park and £500 per year per team member to spend on wellness appointments through our directories for therapies such as counselling, nutritional therapy or reflexology. We now want to find out if switching to a 4-day, 32-hour work week without reducing pay can improve their health and happiness further, whilst maintaining or improving productivity.

The study

We have partnered with Dr Michael Chen, a scientific researcher in the US, and Anglia Ruskin University’s Biomarker Lab to help us run an evaluation. The study will take place over 6 months with 3 months of a regular five-day work week, followed by three months of a four-day work week. The overall goal of the study is to characterise changes in self-rated measures of health and well-being, physiological measures of health including cortisol levels, and objective outcomes in productivity. Over 30 participants will be included in the study.

We will measure objective stress using hair cortisol testing that can help researchers look at general stress levels. The researchers will measure the subjective and objective outcomes over the course of the study as participants shift from a five-day to four-day working week to compare outcomes before and after the shift.

The study will involve weekly and monthly questionnaires that ask about health, stress, and other subjective measures of well-being. We will also measure the impact on productivity by tracking each team’s objectives monthly. This data is ordinarily tracked irrespective of the study, and we are happy to publish the data openly for the study period.

After the six-month trial, we will evaluate the results and make the decision whether or not to make the change to a four-day week a permanent one. At the end of the study we will also release our results so that other companies can learn from them. We hope the results will provide scientific evidence for policies that can positively impact companies and their employees on a wider scale.

Four-day working week momentum

The four-day working week has hit the headlines this year due to the Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell discussing whether Labour will ​include the reduced working week in its manifesto for the next election. Amie Sparrow, our spokesperson at Memiah, joined McDonnell on a panel “How to win a shorter working week” held in Parliament on Thursday 7th March.

“Being able to speak alongside Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, the New Economics Foundation think tank, and representatives of various trade unions fighting for a four-day working week was a brilliant opportunity for us to detail the practical application of a four-day working week and the opportunities and challenges that it brings,” Amie said about the experience.

“Our study has just begun, and we expect to uncover many findings about productivity, stress, and mental health. However, we’re already noticing a shift in thinking amongst employees. Surprisingly, several of my colleagues’ first reaction to the study was that they didn’t know what they would do with an extra day off work, which shows how deeply ingrained the five-day working week is in our culture, which tends to revolve completely around work.”

Our hypothesis is that a shorter, four-day, 32-hour working week should help to reduce stress and increase well-being, whilst maintaining or improving productivity, but we are open-minded to what the data will show.

Due to the size and nature of our business it is easier for us to make the leap. We have been promoting better mental health through our magazine Happiful and our directories such as Counselling Directory for nearly 15 years. However if we can prove that productivity is maintained or even improved, we hope others will conduct their own similar trials and see the benefits for themselves. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

So why trial a four-day working week? Well, why not?

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Notes:

  • The post gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
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Aimi Maunders founded Memiah in 2005 with her sister Emma. They set up Counselling Directory to help people find a counsellor, after experiencing anxiety and depression themselves at school and university. They are passionate about helping people find their inner happiness.