4-Day Week Works For Blue Collar Workers Too, Study Finds

Ditching a working day makes waste collectors more content and less likely to quit, according to new research.

Contrary to the belief of many experts, the future of a 4-day work week doesn’t have to be limited to desk-based workers, according to a new study of public sector workers by the University of Cambridge and Salford.

The UK-based trial found that ditching a workday decreased stress levels for most workers, improved workplace efficiency overall, and lessened attrition rates among garbage collectors – opening up exciting implications for labor and service workers that have previously been excluded from discussions around the popular workplace benefit.

Despite the overall success of the trial, benefits weren’t recorded across the board, suggesting that more research and practical experiments need to be conducted before the movement can be embraced by every industry. Read on to learn more about the study, and what it could mean for the future of the 4-day workweek movement in the US.

Shorter Working Week Can Benefit The Public Sector

There’s no lack of research highlighting the potential of a 4-day work week. As demands to drop the 40-hour week ramp up globally, a slew of studies agree that dropping a working day can reduce burnout and improve the happiness of workers, while simultaneously benefiting the bottom line of businesses.

However, with the conversation mainly being centered around the experience of desk-based workers, the majority of research implies the model would struggle to be embraced universally due to the physical limitations of many service and blue-collar professions – until now.

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After conducting a 15-month trial, a UK-based study backed by the University of Cambridge and Salford found that public sector waste collectors and desk-based workers both benefited from the 4-day workweek. Specifically, the study, which involved over 450 staffers, found that performance improved in 11 out of 24 areas, with little to no change being reported in two.

During the trial period, staff turnover decreased by 39% – saving the organization £371,500 (~$500,000) in recruiting costs – household planning applications were processed a week and a half earlier, and around 15% more planning application decisions were completed within the correct timescale compared to before.

Substantial improvements to the mental health of workers were recorded too, with the majority of participants claiming that they felt more energetic, confident, and happy at work when the trial was taking place. Commenting on the results of the trial, the director of the 4 Day Week Campaign Joe Ryle said they heralded “a huge opportunity for councils and organisations across the public sector to start planning for a four-day working week”.

Challenges Still Remain For The 4-Day Work Week

However, despite the overall success of the trial, the study also highlighted some sticking points involved with compressing the workweek into four days.

Notably, during the 14 weeks, the speed with which empty council houses were relet fell slightly from 28 to 40 days on average, and rent collection for public housing experienced similar drops. Almost half of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that their workdays intensified during the trial too, with only 6% reporting no difference at all.

While stress was down across the board, 14% of workers claimed that a 4-day workweek escalated their level of stress escalated during the time period too. This chimes with the results from another UK-based study, where employees at the London-based company Krystal experienced more stress after implementing the flexible workplace model.

Is a 4-Day Work Week Possible For Laborours In the US?

In the US, a four-day workweek is one of the most in-demand employee perks for all workers, not just those who work in offices.

Support for the movement among blue-collar workers has been evidenced time and time again, including in the United Auto Workers strike last September, where company employees demanded to be paid full-time wages for a 32-hour work week.

The results of the UK’s largest public sector 4-day workweek trial weren’t as unanimous as some previous studies, but it still provides fertile ground for similar experiments to be carried out on home soil. For example, with far fewer garbage collectors quitting during the duration of the trial, and levels of stress dropping overall, it’s clear that working a fewer number of hours a week benefits blue-collar workers just as much as their desk-based counterparts.

Boston College economist and author of a book about the 4-day workweek Juliet Schor also believes that companies from all industries would be able to benefit from the model, whether it be by bolstering productivity or improving staff retention.

“Results are absolutely consistent across every type of industry,” Schor said. “So the four-day week is absolutely as relevant for blue-collar workers as it is for office workers.” – Juliet Schor, Economist at Boston College

Moreover, lots of experts claim just like with desk-based work, there are lots of inefficiencies to be trimmed down in service or labor-intensive professions.  Matthew Bidwell, a social science employment researcher at Wharton believes every sector wastes time in the workday, and a 4-day workweek could force companies to overcome these efficiencies.

Employees don’t always have to sit patiently and wait for the perk to come to them, either. If you think that your company would be better off trimming down a working day, find out how to ask your boss for the benefit, in simple steps.

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Written by:
Isobel O'Sullivan (BSc) is a senior writer at Tech.co with over four years of experience covering business and technology news. Since studying Digital Anthropology at University College London (UCL), she’s been a regular contributor to Market Finance’s blog and has also worked as a freelance tech researcher. Isobel’s always up to date with the topics in employment and data security and has a specialist focus on POS and VoIP systems.
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