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Four-day week trial results show drop in anxiety and fatigue, and improved work-life balance for participants

The Portuguese government backed study was coordinated by Birkbeck’s Dr Pedro Gomes and conducted in collaboration with international non-profit, 4 Day Week Global, and Henley Business School.

The first results of a government-funded 4-day week pilot program in Portugal were published this week with 95% of companies rating the experience positively. Workers also favoured the new schedule, with 85% of them saying they’d require more than a 20% pay increase to return to five days.  

The study includes 41 Portuguese companies that shortened their working weeks, 21 of which coordinated the start of a six-month trial in June. Dr. Pedro Gomes, Professor in Economics at Birkbeck was the research coordinator for the project, which was run in partnership with international non-profit, 4 Day Week Global and Henley Business School. More than 1,000 workers in these companies reduced their work time by 13.7%.  

In 58.5% of companies, workers had one day off per week, while 41.5% of companies opted for a nine-day fortnight. After four months, the organizations rated the overall trial an average of 7.7/10. 

As for the workers’ experience, within three months, the frequency of negative mental health symptoms decreased significantly, with anxiety falling by 21%, fatigue dropping by 23%, and insomnia or sleep problems reducing by 19%.  

The percentage of workers who struggled with balancing work and family responsibilities fell from 46% to a remarkable 8%, while almost two thirds (65%) of workers spent more time with their families after the reduction in working hours. 

Dr. Gomes commented: This pilot has shown us that the 4-day week, however radical it might look for some, is a legitimate management practice with many benefits for firms and workers. We hope our work documenting how companies in Portugal designed a test that positively impacted workers can encourage and help other companies considering a 4-day week." 

Research coordinator Dr. Rita Fontinha, Associate Professor of Strategic Human Resources at Henley Business School said: "Based on these results, the 4-day week could be seen as a potential solution for many of the problems affecting companies today, from recruitment and retention problems, high levels of stress and burnout, gender inequality, absenteeism, and difficulties in managing hybrid working." 

CEO of 4 Day Week Global, Dr Dale Whelehan said: “I commend the Portuguese government for their leadership in this area and encourage other administrations to take note. While there were significant improvements in workers’ well-being, it’s interesting to note that there wasn’t as significant a reduction in hours as we have seen elsewhere. This may be because we only saw three in four companies make organizational changes to achieve the same level of output in less time. Nevertheless, this is an important first step and we know the longer a company operates a 4- day week, the more their hours reduce.” 

The Portuguese Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Ana Mendes Godinho, said: “The results of the pilot project show that we are on the right track. I'm proud that Portugal is already making great progress in creating new ways of organizing work, with the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda, which promotes work as a factor in valuing people, essential for attracting and retaining talent in our country.” 

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