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Working a four-day week boosts employee wellbeing while preserving productivity – study

Sixty-one organisations in the UK committed to a 20% reduction in working hours for all staff, with no fall in wages, for a six-month period starting in June 2022. The vast majority of companies also retained full-time productivity targets.

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Sixty-one organisations in the UK committed to a 20% reduction in working hours for all staff, with no fall in wages, for a six-month period starting in June 2022. The vast majority of companies also retained full-time productivity targets.

Now, results from the world’s largest trial of a four-day working week reveal significantly reduced rates of stress and illness in the workforce – with 71% of employees self-reporting lower levels of “burnout”, and 39% saying they were less stressed, compared to the start of the trial.

There was a 65% reduction in sick days, and a 57% fall in the number of staff leaving participating companies, compared to the same period the previous year. Company revenue barely changed during the trial period – even increasing marginally by 1.4% on average. 

In a report of the findings presented to UK lawmakers, some 92% of companies that took part in the UK pilot programme (56 out of 61) say they intend to continue with the four-day working week, with 18 companies confirming the change as permanent.

Research for the UK trials was conducted by a team of social scientists from the University of Cambridge, working with academics from Boston College in the US and the think tank Autonomy. The trial was organised by 4 Day Week Global in conjunction with the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign.

Companies from across the UK took part, with around 2,900 employees dropping a day of work. Organisations involved in the trial ranged from online retailers and financial service providers to animation studios and a local fish-and-chip shop.

Other industries represented include consultancy, housing, IT, skincare, recruitment, hospitality, marketing, and healthcare.

Researchers surveyed employees throughout the trial to gauge the effects of having an extra day of free time. Self-reported levels of anxiety and fatigue decreased across workforces, while mental and physical health improved.

Many survey respondents said they found it easier to balance work with both family and social commitments: 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reported it easier to combine work with social life.

“Before the trial, many questioned whether we would see an increase in productivity to offset the reduction in working time – but this is exactly what we found,” said sociologist Prof Brendan Burchell, who led the University of Cambridge side of the research.

“Many employees were very keen to find efficiency gains themselves. Long meetings with too many people were cut short or ditched completely. Workers were much less inclined to kill time, and actively sought out technologies that improved their productivity.”

Dr David Frayne, a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, said: “We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits.”

Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, calls the results a “major breakthrough moment” for the idea of shorter working weeks. “Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, these incredible results show that the four-day week actually works.”

In addition to the survey work, designed in collaboration with colleagues including Prof Juliet Schor from Boston College, the Cambridge team conducted a large number of extensive interviews with employees and company CEOs before, during and after the six-month trial.

Other pilots run by 4 Day Week Global in the US and Ireland – with research conducted by many of the same academics – have already reported their findings. However, the UK trial is not only the largest to date but also the first to include in-depth interview research.

“The method of this pilot allowed our researchers to go beyond surveys and look in detail at how the companies were making it work on the ground,” said Frayne, from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology.

In terms of motivations, several senior managers told researchers they saw the four-day week as a rational response to the pandemic – and believed it would give them an edge when it came to attracting talent in the post-Covid job market.

Some saw it as an appealing alternative to unlimited home working, which they felt risked company culture. Others had seen staff suffer through health problems and bereavement during the pandemic, and felt an increased “moral responsibility” towards employees.

“I hated the pandemic, but it’s made us see each other much more in the round, and it’s made us all realise the importance of having a healthy head, and that family matters,” said the CEO of a non-profit organisation that took part in the trial.

However, many said shorter hours were being discussed long before Covid as a response to demanding or emotionally draining work. The CEO of a video game studio pointed to high-profile examples of “crunch and burnout” in their industry as a reason for involvement in the trial.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, no organisation interviewed was taking part in the trials simply because technology had reduced their need for human labour.

Some companies stopped work completely for a three-day weekend, while others staggered a reduced workforce over a week. One restaurant calculated their 32-hour week over an entire year to have long opening times in the summer, but much shorter in winter.     

A few companies in the trial attached strings to the reduced hours, including fewer holiday days, agreement that staff could be called in at short notice, or a “conditional” four-day week: one that only continued while performance targets were met.

Interviews documented how companies reduced working hours without compromising on targets. Common methods included shorter meetings with clearer agendas; introduction of interruption-free ‘focus periods’; reforming email etiquette to reduce long chains and inbox churn; new analyses of production processes; end-of-day task lists for effective handovers or next-day head starts.

When employees were asked how they used additional time off, by far the most popular response was “life admin”: tasks such as shopping and household chores. Many explained how this allowed them a proper break for leisure activities on Saturday and Sunday.  

“It was common for employees to describe a significant reduction in stress,” said researcher and Cambridge PhD candidate Niamh Bridson Hubbard. “Many described being able to switch off or breathe more easily at home. One person told us how their ‘Sunday dread’ had disappeared.”

For some parents of young children, a midweek day off meant savings on childcare expenses. For those with older children, it meant some welcome ‘me time’. All reported doing more of the activities they already enjoy – from sport to cooking, music making to volunteering. Some developed new interests, while others used the time to get professional qualifications.  

“When you realise that day has allowed you to be relaxed and rested, and ready to absolutely go for it on those other four days, you start to realise that to go back to working on a Friday would feel really wrong – stupid actually,” said the CEO of a consultancy organisation involved in the trial.

When it came to working culture, employees were generally positive, feeling more valued by their employer and describing a shared sense of purpose arising from efforts to make the four-day week a success.

However, several staff at one large company had concerns about intensifying workloads, while some at creative companies expressed disquiet over reduced worktime conviviality due to ‘focus time’, and argued that unstructured chat often generates new ideas.

By the end of the six-month trial, many of the managers said they could not imagine returning to a five-day week. “Almost everyone we interviewed described being overwhelmed with questions from other organisations in their industry that are interested in following suit,” said Burchell. 

“When we ask employers, a lot of them are convinced the four-day week is going to happen. It has been uplifting for me personally, just talking to so many upbeat people over the last six months. A four-day week means a better working life and family life for so many people.”

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Stars outweigh numbers in online review ratings battle

Consumers perceived numerical ratings in the 3.5-3.9 range as lower than if that same rating were presented in stars due to left-digit anchoring.

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Mathematically speaking, scoring 3.5 out of 5 is the same as receiving three and a half stars on a five-star scale. But visually speaking, the numbers don’t add up.

When it comes to enticing potential consumers to either click on an ad or buy a product, formats matter. Shapes outweigh numbers in the online review ratings battle.

A new study found that consumers view a 3.5-rated product to be higher — and better — when the score is illustrated in shapes like stars, circles and bars, versus numbers.

“Simply changing a rating’s format from numbers to stars increases the perception of the rating as higher,” said Carter Morgan, an assistant professor in the School of Marketing and Innovationin the Muma College of Business, who co-authored the study.

Researchers found that consumers perceived numerical ratings in the 3.5-3.9 range as lower than if that same rating were presented in stars due to left-digit anchoring.

Left-digit bias is a psychological phenomenon where people place more emphasis on the leftmost digit. A consumer’s brain tends to process numbers digit by digit with a focus on the left most digit when interpreting numbers.

For a rating of 3.5, consumers typically focus on the digit 3 instead of the full number 3.5, therefore believing the rating to be lower than it is, Morgan said.

The study’s findings have practical implications for online retailers, marketing managers and website designers and public policy makers.

Researchers recommend using stars, circles, or bars as opposed to numbers in product ratings because shapes can boost a consumer’s likelihood of choosing a product, their intent to buy it, and even their likelihood of clicking on related advertisements.

Consumer advocates and government agencies have pushed to increase transparency for online ratings and reviews.

Public policy makers may want to consider standardizing rating formats so that customers are not unintentionally biased in their decision-making, Morgan said.

The article, “The Power of a Star Rating: Differential Effects of Customer Rating Formats on Magnitude Perceptions and Consumer Reactions,” published online for early access in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Aside from Morgan, the article’s co-authors include Annika Abell and Marisabel Romero, both from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

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‘Free’ delivery plans profit both retailers and customers

Free-delivery subscription (FDS) plans come surprising close to being a free lunch. They can offer financial benefits to everyone involved: retailers such as Target and Amazon and their customers, who intend to buy many products and take advantage of free shipping.

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In March, Target became the latest mega-retailer to offer “free” delivery — for a price. For $99 a year, subscribers to Target Circle 360 can place unlimited orders without having to worry about shipping costs. Target competes with similar plans offered by Walmart and Amazon.

Of course, someone ultimately must pay those delivery costs. Or do they?

According to new research from Texas McCombs, free-delivery subscription (FDS) plans come surprising close to being a free lunch. They can offer financial benefits to everyone involved: retailers such as Target and Amazon and their customers, who intend to buy many products and take advantage of free shipping.

The paper was co-authored by Anant Balakrishnan, professor of information, risk, and operations management. With Shankar Sundaresan of Rutgers University and McCombs graduate Chinmoy Mohapatra — now at Amazon — he explored whether FDS services are a good business move, compared with the traditional practice of having customers pay extra for shipping.

“We saw some articles in the business press that the actual cost of delivering goods was more than twice the amount they recover from subscription fees,” Balakrishnan says. “It begs the question: How can this be sustainable?”

For example, he says, if a company spends $8 per order on shipping costs and charges $80 for its subscription, its operations costs exceed the fee after 10 orders. What’s more, customers who subscribe to FDS place smaller orders more frequently, instead of grouping items together to save on shipping. That further increases the company’s total delivery costs.

It’s hard to get cost and revenue information from mega-retailers, who prefer to keep logistics data secret, Balakrishnan says. Instead, he used computer modeling, analyzing 3,125 different combinations of delivery operations and customer types.

On average, he found, compared with traditional paid delivery,

  • A universal FDS plan, where all customers pay the same subscription fee for unlimited free deliveries, generated 33.7% more overall profit.
  • A tiered plan, offering extra perks for higher fees, generated an additional 1.9% in profit over the universal plan.

The reason, he says, is that other factors increase profits enough to make up for what the retailer loses on shipping.

More purchases. 

“People who are subscribing to these plans buy more on average every year,” Balakrishnan says. Since they no longer pay separate shipping for each purchase, their cost per unit is lower, prompting them to purchase more. Companies benefit because they earn a profit margin on each purchase.

Locking in customers. 

Even heavy shoppers aren’t likely to sign up for every FDS service available. They’re likely to do more shopping with whatever retailer they’re subscribed to.

“Once you lock in a customer to a subscription, they may shift their purchases from other places, as long as the price is comparable,” Balakrishnan says.

Adding value.

In addition to free shipping, retailers can add other perks, such as access to online entertainment, exclusive sales, or different return options. If the package is attractive enough, customers might be willing to pay more than they would spend for shipping alone. Amazon Prime has steadily increased its price from $79 to its current $139 a year.

But FDS plans don’t work for all retailers and all customers. Some customers may not shop enough to make the plan worthwhile. Others may shop so often that it would hurt a smaller retailer to offer them unlimited free shipping, even with a fee.

Giving customers flexible options works best, Balakrishnan says. For example, a retailer can offer a subscription fee that includes free shipping but limits it to a specific number of orders.

The biggest takeaway, Balakrishnan says, is that a mix of FDS and pay-for-delivery (PFD) options can increase business for retailers while saving money for frequent shoppers. In homage to a well-known ad campaign for American Express, he considered titling his paper, “Membership Has its Benefits.”

Now that he’s shown how combining FDS and PFD can work for retailers, he says, the next step might be to look at how they can compete within these frameworks. Other avenues to explore include getting and analyzing empirical data from companies, and studying the economics of alternative business models for last-mile delivery operations.

“I see Amazon trucks almost every day making deliveries to multiple households,” Balakrishnan says. “If many of my neighbors are Prime subscribers, and they keep ordering often, the delivery costs get amortized over multiple deliveries. So, delivery costs for Amazon may be lower. I think this is very important for us to study later.”

Subscription Pricing for Free Delivery Servicesis published in Production and Operations Management.

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Consumers value animal welfare more than environmental sustainability when buying meat and dairy products – study

While consumers consider sustainability important, other factors such as taste, quality, and animal welfare take precedence in their purchasing decisions.

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The treatment of animals rates higher than green issues when consumers choose meat and dairy products.  

That’s according to a new study, which suggests that while consumers consider sustainability important, other factors such as taste, quality, and animal welfare take precedence in their purchasing decisions.

On product labels, consumers valued information regarding animal welfare, food safety, and health and nutrition. The results can help producers to market particularly sustainably produced food products in a more targeted way and make them more attractive to consumers.

The study was conducted across five European countries—Czechia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK to identify the attributes that are most important to consumers buying meat or dairy products.

Taking part in an online survey, 3,192 participants were asked to rate the importance of 18 different factors when shopping for meat and dairy products on a scale from 1 (not at all important) to 5 (extremely important):

  • ·Attributes – freshness, quality/taste, healthy eating, nutrition, price, processing, special offers, convenience of use/preparation, and familiarity of brand.
  • ·Animal welfare attributes – animal welfare, outdoor-reared/free range, and pasture-fed.
  • ·Attributes related to environmental sustainability – locally produced, sustainable packaging, food miles, carbon footprint, and organic.
  • ·Social sustainability – Fair trade or producer/farmer fairly paid.

Across all surveyed countries, consumers consistently prioritised freshness, quality/taste, and animal welfare as the most important attributes. In contrast, environmental factors such as food miles, carbon footprint, and organic production were deemed less important in influencing purchasing decisions. However, sustainability labels were perceived as helpful among consumers.

Study co-author Dr Andy Jin, Senior Lecturer in Risk Management in the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Our study highlights the complex interplay of factors that influence consumer behaviour when buying meat and dairy products. Consumers indicated that information related to animal welfare, food safety, and health and nutrition was considered more important than environmental sustainability when making food choices.

“The findings demonstrate the importance of labelling strategies that encompass multiple aspects of product attributes, beyond environmental considerations alone.”

The implications of the research extend further than consumers to policymakers, producers, and retailers in the food industry who are striving to meet evolving consumer demands for more sustainable products.

Dr Jin added: “Labels on their own are not enough to change behaviour, especially for consumers who have low or no behavioural intention to buy sustainable meat or dairy products.

“These results should be translated into additional policy measures, such as nudges or behavioral interventions, helping individuals translate their attitudes into behavior and facilitating the choice of sustainably produced products.”

The research, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, was conducted by the universities of Portsmouth and Newcastle in the UK, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Córdoba in Spain, Mendel University in Czech Republic and Agroscope from Switzerland.

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