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Four-day week trial sees jump in productivity

The Manufacturing Technology Centre, an organisation that develops and implements technology emerging from universities, is offering its 820 staff the option of a four-day week.

The decision follows a two-year trial of flexible working conducted with more than 600 of its staff members, which saw half of them reporting higher productivity and morale when they were able to choose how and when they worked.

In what the MTC describes as the implementation of a “fully flexible working week”, employees will now be able to mutually agree with their team and line manager when they work their designated 36 hours a week.

Many other employers are also beginning to offer increased flexibility to their staff, the result of working from home in lockdowns, the push from employees for a better work/life balance and competition for new recruits.

The MTC’s scheme is among the more liberal regimes to be announced — although not as relaxed as that of Atom, the digital bank, which introduced a four-day week for its staff last November that saw employees’ weekly hours cut from 37.5 to 34.

Separately, the world’s biggest trial of a four-day week is under way in the UK, with 70 firms and 3,300 workers taking part. It is being organised by a not-for-profit group, 4 Day Week Global, and monitored by researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities and Boston College. They will look at the impact on productivity, workers’ wellbeing, gender equality and the environment.

MTC is not part of that scheme and Dr Clive Hickman, chief executive of the business, said he began his trial well before the pandemic as part of a drive to recruit more staff because of a shortage of skilled workers.

“There are just not enough people out there and so we looked at what other fringe benefits we could offer. It can’t just be about raising pay,” he said.

It is an unusual move for a manufacturing organisation that needs to be operational around the clock. Hickman said it was initially met with resistance from the MTC’s clients, who were concerned about how it would work in practice. However, he found that the antisocial hours of manufacturing, which can involve working nights and weekends, is well suited to total flexibility, as long as the job gets done. The trial has interested its industrial partners including Rolls-Royce, Siemens, and Meggitt, which have asked for more information and data.

Anna Cooke, 28, is a business analyst who has worked at the MTC for four years. She took part in the trial and worked from Monday to Thursday, from 7.30am to 5pm.

“I live 30 miles away so the one less journey into work is great,” she said. “My sister is having a baby in August and I have that day to spend with her and with my recently retired parents. It gives you the chance to do your life admin, the weekly food shop, managing a house — things that you’d normally have to cram into a weekend.”

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