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Why one U.K. company is continuing with four-day work weeks after six-month trial

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So are you hoping to reclaim a bit of time from the busy workweek? Well, one of the world's largest studies of the four-day workweek has some good news. The six-month study followed 61 companies in the U.K., nearly 3,000 employees overall. And the results demonstrate that workers got more sleep, had less anxiety and were less likely to quit - all of that and the company's revenues stayed steady or, in some cases, even went up. The environmental consultancy Tyler Grange is one of the companies that took part in the study, and they have said that they are making the four-day workweek permanent. Simon Ursell is the firm's managing director, and he joins us now. Hey there.

SIMON URSELL: Hi. How are you doing?

CHANG: Pretty good. I want to hear more about this. OK. So I guess my biggest question overall is, you know, you have said that some of your employees were anxious. They were already working at full capacity at five days a week before you entered this study. So how did you get them to fit all of that work into four days without increasing burnout?

URSELL: I mean, we were worried about that, and it was our very best people that were the most anxious. But what we did is enable them to work on it in their own way. I think that's the key to this. And we declared war on admin. So we do as little administrative tasks as we possibly can - say, internal meetings, filling in forms to tell somebody else what you're doing. They made some significant time savings by doing that.

CHANG: Well, what if your clients need you on a Friday or whatever day you're taking off during the workweek? How did your firm handle that issue?

URSELL: The businesses that did this across the U.K. - they all did different things. In our case, we shut the whole business down on Thursday night. So Friday, we're not in. But what we have got is an emergency phone line. We've made the directors, the owners of the business, man the phone line on a Friday. Plus, if we do get phoned up and it's about a project one of the guys is working on, the commitment is they have to help us solve whatever it is that's being missed during the week. So that's a pretty serious incentive for people to actually make sure they're really on point with their work. And the thing that's really changed - and actually, our clients - they've all reported that the level of service has gone up...

CHANG: Wow.

URSELL: ...Because our comms has got much better.

CHANG: I do have to raise the issue of parity here - like, how applicable this concept is - because most of the companies in this pilot study had 25 or fewer employees, and most of the participants were white and had undergraduate degrees. So given those limitations, how broadly do you think these results really could apply, especially in sectors that are already experiencing staffing shortages, where the idea of taking one day off every single week just isn't realistic?

URSELL: Yeah. No. I hear that. And you're absolutely right. And I - but I think the real question is, why five days? I mean, I haven't had anybody give me a reason why we work five days other than tradition. And it was in America - Henry Ford in the 1920s that changed from a six-day to a five-day week. And what I think the trial has proved is that working in a way that is most applicable to your organization to achieve the sweet spot of the best productivity for the time - that's what you got to be aiming at. It's not necessarily, let's just do four days. I think the real question for me is what is, the best thing for your organization? What are you going to get the best outcomes for?

CHANG: So I got to ask, how are you spending your extra weekend day these days now?

URSELL: So personally...

CHANG: Yeah.

URSELL: ...I play golf first thing because I can't have my phone, and it takes me away from work. I'm not very good at it, but...

CHANG: That's OK.

URSELL: That means I have to - I focus on not being good at golf rather than work, and that sets my weekend up.

CHANG: (Laughter).

URSELL: But actually, what I would say is now I've got into the swing of it over that long weekend.

CHANG: So to speak.

URSELL: I am so much better at my job, and that surprised me.

CHANG: Simon Ursell of the firm Tyler Grange. Thank you so much for joining us today.

URSELL: Pleasure - enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elena Burnett