Conversations around the four-day work week have been reignited by the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers and employers rethinking the importance of workplace flexibility and benefits. The concept has been floating around the popular consciousness for some time now and has picked up even more momentum in the past year, with SMEs conducting initial trials to understand more about how it might work.

The idea is really simple: employees would work four days instead of five each week, while getting paid the same, earning the same benefits, and delivering the same workload. Companies reducing their workweek would therefore operate with fewer meetings and more independent work. The four-day week is not the only answer to a better work/life balance, but when accompanied with other benefits, such as flexibility and healthy wages, it bolsters employers’ attractiveness to prospective hires, improves staff happiness and motivation, and can even increase the bottom line.

Dr Charlotte Rae, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sussex, specialises in the biological basis of wellbeing. Her work uses MRI brain scanning to understand how the mind works. Encouraged by the international data showing the benefits of a 4-day week, she set up the Sussex 4-day Week Study to assess the changes that take place in mind, brain, and body when employees switch to a 4-day week.

With 10 businesses in the Sussex area signing up to participate in the initial trial, a deep dive was taken into the psychological and physiological changes that take place when employees switch to a 4-day week. By examining physiological and neurological data, Dr Rae hopes to reveal the mechanisms by which a 4-day week can have beneficial effects on employees (and thereby on the employer).

With the results from ESRC research, supported by the University’s Digital Futures at Work Research Centre in, the largest coordinated UK-wide trial to date shows that 92% of employers have chosen to continue a 4-day week post-trial. It seems that the evidence is steadily mounting in favour of reducing time at work with no loss of salary. How long might it be before it becomes the social norm?

On 25th of May for the Falmer Knowledge Hub and 15th June for the Croydon Knowledge Hub, Dr Charlotte Rae will share insights from her year-long study into the wellbeing and productivity impacts of changing working patterns. Come along to hear her findings, the benefits and challenges, and advice for SMEs considering the change for themselves.