4 Women On What It’s Like To Have A 4 Day Work Week

The UK four-day work week trial that buzzed through workplaces earlier this year finally started this week with over 70 companies taking part. The pilot scheme – run by the 4 Day Week campaign, think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge, Oxford and Boston universities – will be run in these companies as they trial a four-day work week for six months later this year. The pilot – similar ones of which have already run in Iceland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – will measure whether employees can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time. What does it really mean for that coveted (and ironically overworked) phrase, 'work-life balance'?
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There are in fact many companies in the UK which already offer and implement a four-day working week. We spoke (somewhat enviously) to the employees of UK businesses who have been working four days a week for some time – importantly, without reduced pay – to see what impact it's had on their lives. (News flash: unsurprisingly, it's pretty much all fantastic.)

Gemma Copeland, 32, researcher, Common Knowledge, London

Gemma works in design and research at Common Knowledge, a not-for-profit worker cooperative designing digital tools for social movements. She has worked four days a week since her company started implementing it in July 2021 and takes her 'off day' on a Wednesday, to split her working week in half.
"I like it because it means I only ever have to do two days work in a row," she explains. "This has a pretty profound effect. Instead of feeling like I work most of the time and then I get a little bit of time off, the two are pretty evenly balanced."

The 40-hour work week is just an arbitrary span – is it working for anyone anymore? Surely we can be more creative about how we structure our society.

Gemma
In her free time, Gemma usually helps out at a community garden, sees friends or practises something non-work-related, like weaving or creative writing. Sometimes though, she’ll just use Wednesday to catch up on life admin. "It really helps to have a day off to do the boring stuff because it means I can keep my weekends entirely free for fun."
Does it affect how she works? "I feel like I’m still getting the same amount of stuff done. I think knowing that we’re all only working four days helps us be a bit more realistic about our capacity," Gemma explains, acknowledging how a clear out-of-office outlining working hours also sends out a good signal to Common Knowledge's clients.
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One downside she has noticed with a four-day week is a reduction in the amount of time available for team meetings. "We’ve agreed internally that people can either take Wednesday or Friday off. However, this means that we can only really have full team meetings on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday," she says. "It hasn’t been too bad though – we make an effort to have as little meetings and work as asynchronously as possible anyway."

Gemma believes the whole nation would benefit from a four-day work week. "I love my job but I don’t think anyone should have to work full-time in order to live," she says. "The 40-hour work week is just an arbitrary figure – is it working for anyone anymore? Surely we can be more creative about how we structure our society. I think it’s so important to have genuine freedom to spend your time however you want to, nurturing all the other aspects that make us human. If everyone in the UK had the opportunity to live like that, our society would feel so much stronger and healthier."
For Gemma, the four-day week is just the first step in a broader structural rethink. "From there we can start gradually reducing the amount of days until eventually we abolish wage labour entirely," she says, adding that she would never go back to a five-day week. And why would she? "Weeks feel more spacious and relaxed, and the whole team is happier."

Elspeth Mills, 28, print designer, Lucy & Yak, Brighton

"I feel more focused and 'on it' over four days, as opposed to five, and my productivity is actually increased during the shorter timeframe," says print designer Elspeth, who has been working at the colourful, Brighton-based brand Lucy & Yak for four years and is one of its longest serving employees.
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She was in post when founders Lucy and Chris decided to make the shift to a four-day week back in summer 2020, with some departments making the move to work five six-hour days and others working four eight-hour days. "It has had a very positive impact," Elspeth tells R29, mirroring what Gemma at Common Knowledge said about having time to catch up on life's boring (but important) necessities. "Especially, I've found that it allows extra time for life admin tasks that usually eat into a weekend and reduce your time to spend on yourself."
When asked about the upcoming UK-wide four-day trial, Elspeth was all in. From an employer's perspective, she says, "It gives them the opportunity to be more flexible and also potentially hire more people and structure their teams in a forward-thinking way." From an employee perspective, it works for Elspeth, too – she cites a noticeable improvement in her personal wellbeing.
Lucy & Yak cofounder Lucy Greenwood agrees. "In a growing brand like ours, keeping the team together and aligned during a trying time has been vital," she tells R29. "We believe working reduced hours, while keeping pay the same, has been a huge reason for our success in doing so," adding that the job market is very saturated at the moment and the four-day week offer "is a helpful tool to attracting the best candidates and ensuring they feel happy and supported."

Giedre Buteikyte, 32, operations manager, Four Day Week Ltd, London

Giedre – who works for a London-based website that advertises jobs that offer innovative approaches to flexible working – has been working a four-day week for over three years now. Part of a small team with three other members, Giedre is the only one working full time (four days a week), while the others work part-time hours. "Working 'normal' hours between Monday and Friday used to be tiring and, by the time it was the weekend, I used to feel like I had no energy to enjoy it. With a four-day week I can actually be present and relax," she tells R29. She likes to spend her extra day screen-free, reading books (not emails) or going on long walks.
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Like many of the young women we spoke to, Giedre has seen myriad benefits in her work and productivity, too: it's made her more organised. "I’ve become better at planning the week ahead," she says. "The time-sensitive tasks are usually done at the beginning of the week, with the less urgent things being done as and when. It has helped me to prioritise things better and improve my time management."

Kirsten Buck, 32, head of sustainability, PTHR, Aberdeen

PTHR is a growing HR consultancy with no physical HQ. Its team of 18 has almost quadrupled in just two years, from a small team of five in 2020, and employees are dotted around the UK, Scotland and Romania. It started implementing a four-day work week in 2020, mid-pandemic, "after we were all feeling quite burned out. We were spent," says Kirsten, PTHR's chief impact, culture officer and head of sustainability.
When she joined PTHR three years ago, Kirsten had recently had a baby. She has been gradually increasing her hours over the past two years and is now full time, benefiting from having an extra day midweek ('Wellness Wednesdays', as the company has monikered it) which she chooses to spend with her son, meaning one less day of childcare to pay for each week.
"Over 50% of our employees at PTHR are working mothers," Kirsten tells R29. "And many of us are carers, too. For instance, our founder Perry cares for his wife. So the way the whole organisation has been built and grown over the last two years is so that people with different responsibilities can work flexibly. They can work in a self-managed, autonomous way."
Prior to working at PTHR, Kirsten had worked in the energy sector, which she describes as "very traditional" with five-day work week expectations. Comparing the two, she feels a four-day work week is much more conducive to a happy employee. "I think that it accelerates efficiency, if I'm honest, because I have less time but I want to do more with it. There's less latent time, which stops me procrastinating."
Though a four-day work week is the ideal for Kirsten and really works for her and her company, she acknowledges it would be tricky to implement UK-wide immediately. "I think that it would be challenging in safety-critical industries which are dealing with people's lives – the NHS, some aspects of the energy sector, the military. I think larger bureaucratic or traditional organisations should do it but it would be a long process, and safety of people should still be at the core." That's not to say that people who work in essential service industries shouldn't have those same benefits, Kirsten adds. "I just think that systemically it'll be more challenging. But it can make a massive difference to retention of employees because they have better wellbeing and family balance. So I think that it's the way the world needs to go. We're no longer in the Victorian era."

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