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In Britain, a new test of an old dream: The four-day workweek

LONDON (NYTIMES) - Thousands of employees across 70 companies in Britain started the first day of a four-day workweek Monday (June 6), a pilot program that is the latest test in the decadeslong quest to scale back workers' hours while they earn the same amount of pay.

The six-month trial was organised by the nonprofit groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and Autonomy, an organisation that studies the impact of labour on well-being.

Researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College will assess its effect on productivity and quality of life and will announce results in 2023, the organizers said in a statement.

The program in Britain follows similar efforts in other countries, including Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. More than 3,300 workers in banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality and other industries in Britain are taking part in the pilot, the organisers said.

Ryle said the data would be collected through interviews and staff surveys, and through the measures each company uses to assess its productivity. "We'll be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life," Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and the lead researcher on the project, said.

The four-day workweek has been a workplace dream for decades. In 1956, then-Vice President Richard Nixon predicted such an arrangement in the "not too distant future."

But the reality has been unevenly implemented globally over the years, said Schor, who is also leading research into other trials. Individual companies have tailored their approaches, particularly as the pandemic upended traditional work culture.

In the US, some companies allowed employees to trim their workweek, by cutting out Fridays, working hybrid shifts, taking pay cuts for fewer hours or setting their own timetables.

Working from home during the pandemic has been the main factor driving the growing momentum for a shorter workweek, Schor said. "It made employers realise they could trust their workers," she said.