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Canon’s UK arm to become latest company to trial four-day week

·4-min read

Edinburgh-based firm joins pilot study into shorter working week run by Oxford and Cambridge academics


A British arm of the camera company Canon will this year become one of the latest businesses to trial a four-day working week with no loss of pay, as part of a six-month trial run by academics at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

The trial comes amid growing interest from businesses around the world in the potential benefits of giving workers an extra day off. The pilot programme will be run in conjunction with Cambridge and Oxford academics alongside Boston College, the 4 Day Week Campaign and the thinktank Autonomy.

Six companies have joined so far for a pilot, which is scheduled to begin in June, although the researchers hope to attract between 20 and 30 businesses in total.

The Edinburgh-based Canon Medical Research Europe will trial the four-day week among its 140 employees. It develops medical and artificial intelligence software, and its parent company is a member of Japan’s Nikkei 225 index.

Ken Sutherland, the president of Canon Medical Research Europe, said: “We recognise that working patterns and the focus we all give to our work-life balance has changed substantially during the pandemic. As a responsive employer we are always looking at how we can adapt our working practices to ensure that employees find their time with us is meaningful, fulfilling and productive. For this reason, we’re keen to pilot a four-day week to see if it can work for us.”

The UK companies taking part are also understood to include software firms and a medical not-for-profit, and range in size from about 20 staff to several with more than 100.

The four-day week, reducing standard hours by a fifth but with no loss of pay, has been gaining ground in recent years after some businesses have reported counter-intuitive benefits, such as increased productivity and improved staff retention – reducing a major cost especially for industries that usually have high employee turnover.

The app-based Atom Bank announced in November it would move permanently to a four-day week, with most employees likely to have a three-day weekend as standard. Another Japanese technology company, Panasonic, this year said it would trial optional four-day weeks.

Other large companies looking at the four-day week include Unilever, the maker of consumer goods ranging from Marmite to Dove soap. It has extended a trial for some workers in New Zealand until June because of the recent lockdowns. The UK supermarket chain Morrisons hassaid it would introduce the measure for employees at its Bradford headquarters.

Pilot schemes are already taking place in Spain, Ireland and the US, and a trial in Scotland was announced last year by the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a prominent advocate, and one of his staffers set up the UK campaign.

The Glasgow-based Pursuit Marketing has had a four-day week for all staff since 2016. Lorraine Gray, its chief operating officer, said the work pattern continued to be a success for the business, with productivity about 30% higher than before – more than making up for the lost day.

“It focuses the mind,” she said. “For anybody in the workplace, there’s always points in your day when you could be more productive.” There’s no more “Mondaymorningitis” sick days, she added.

Staff turnover has remained low, and there have been mental health benefits. Pursuit has expanded since 2018, when the Guardian first spoke to Gray, and it played a role in running call centres seven-days a week for Scotland’s test and protect contact-tracing system during the pandemic.

One of the British academics studying the pilot will be Brendan Burchell, a professor in the social sciences at Cambridge University whose work has focused on issues such as the relationship between unemployment and wellbeing and the effects of “flexible” working on UK workers.

He said: “With the social and environmental benefits of the shorter working week becoming clearer, grassroots support more widespread, and technology available to maintain productivity, the time has come for more organisations to take the leap and unravel the practicalities.”

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