Support for a shorter working week is gathering momentum, but implementing such a policy will be a complicated process. We’ve invited researchers and experts to join us at Meaning 2019, to share their insights on how it might work in practice, as the focus of one of our conference workshops. Among them is Amie Sparrow, whose employer Memiah is currently trialing a four-day-week with it’s 30+ person team. We asked Amie to explain how the trial is designed…
Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and costs £34.9 billion each year – and that’s just one statistic from the Centre for Mental Health, others have much higher estimates. Like our friends at Meaning, we know that we as individuals can’t afford to separate our personal values from our daily working lives – coming up with new ways of working to address mental health at work is not a luxury but a necessity.
At Memiah, our mission is to build a happier, healthier society by connecting people with self-care information, real stories and professional support across a range of mental health and wellness topics. A big aim for a small company, but one that is truly more than lip service – in order to build a happier, healthier society, we had to start with ourselves.
So in June this year, Memiah started its trial of a four-day work week for its 30+ employees to examine if a shorter working week can reduce work-related stress and improve work-life balance whilst maintaining or increasing productivity. We’ll be talking about this in more detail in our session at Meaning 2019.
The six-month trial is split into two phases, each lasting three months. In the first phase of the trial, which is now complete, employees retained their normal hours: 34 hours over five working days for full-time employees. During this period, baseline data was collected, which included a weekly survey for employees to self-report levels of stress, wellbeing, job and personal life satisfaction, plus various company productivity measures captured from internal IT systems. Employees also complete a more detailed survey monthly, which will contain specific questions around psychological and physical health.
“Our company mission is to make a happier, healthier society and so that has to start with our team. We want to see if switching to a four-day, 32 hour work week can improve their health and happiness, whilst maintaining or improving productivity for the company, so we have partnered with Dr. Michael Chen, a scientific researcher in the U.S., University College London Division of Psychiatry Researcher Dr. Francesca Solmi, and Anglia Ruskin University’s Biomarker Lab to help us run an evaluation. At the end of the study we will release our results so that other companies can learn from them,” Memiah Director Paul Maunders said.
Memiah decided early on that measuring the impact in the change to a four-day work week was a requirement – if we’re going to do this experiment, it is important to us that we can get some solid conclusions out of it either way. Having scientific data as well as self-reported measurements from employees should provide a well-rounded snapshot of if the four-day work week is actually good in practice or if it’s something that sounds good in theory but doesn’t deliver – we are going into this with an open mind as to the results.
Part of our effort to make the trial as scientific as possible includes working with a university partner: Anglia Ruskin University’s Biomarker Lab, which is carrying out tests to measure cortisol levels of our staff, which will come from hair samples we submit for each person participating in the study and in the control group. Levels of cortisol, which is the body’s stress indicator, will be taken from hair samples provided by Memiah employees. The first hair sample was taken the week before the trial moved to a four-day week schedule, in order to capture cortisol levels in the hair just before employees started a four day week.
For the second three-month phase, all staff involved in the trial began working a 32 hour, four-day week, whilst keeping the same pay. The office remains open for five days a week, with individual team leaders responsible for ensuring that the new working patterns cover the entirety of the usual five days.
The second hair sample will be taken at the end of the four-day work week trial in December 2019, from which cortisol levels will be taken and compared to the first sample taken three months earlier, before the four day schedule began.
There is also a control group consisting of four part-time and one full-time employee, who will have had their wages raised by 6% for the period of the trial to ensure all participants receive the same uplift per hour worked. After the six-month trial, Memiah will look at the findings from the evaluation and make the decision over whether or not they will make the change to a four-day week a permanent one.
No matter if you work four days or five, looking after employee mental health is a necessity. You can find more resources to support good mental health at happiful.com, including our monthly lifestyle magazine dedicated to mental health, which is available in print or as a free e-magazine on our website.
We’re looking forward to sharing an update and answering questions at Meaning in November as part of the New Economics Foundation breakout session, The Future of Less Work . Meanwhile for more information on the study, questions or requests for collaboration, email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring Amie Sparrow on +44 (0)1276 580030.