Is a 4-Day Workweek Possible for Biopharma?

Courtesy Miniseries/Getty Images

Courtesy Miniseries/Getty Images

miniseries/Getty Images

Results from the largest-ever trial of a four-day workweek showed overwhelming success, but is that success possible for biopharma companies?

Courtesy Miniseries/Getty Images

On Feb. 21, a U.K. pilot program in which approximately 3,000 employees and 61 employers tested a four-day workweek came to a close. Over six months, the participants worked an average of 32 hours instead of the traditional 40.

Results from the study–the largest-ever trial of a four-day workweek–showed overwhelming success. Employees reported improved sleep, stress and work-life balance, and 92% of participating companies stated they will continue with the four-day week.

Of note, there was little change in company revenue over the six months of the trial, but it rose 35% compared to the same period in the previous year.

Is Biopharma a Special Case?

The trial included many different types of companies, from retailers and restaurants to nonprofits and marketing agencies.

Despite the trial’s success, many who work in the life sciences still doubt that a four-day workweek or reduced hours overall could work for their company. In a week-long poll BioSpace ran on LinkedIn following the trial results, 73% of 663 total respondents said a four-day week would be feasible at their organization.

This leaves 27% who do not think the reduced hours would work for their company.

Guy Levy-Yurista, CEO of Synthace, agrees with them.

“For anyone working in a lab, there’s no chance of this happening any time soon,” he told BioSpace.

This is for two reasons, he said. The first is that many biological processes need attention around the clock. “You can’t expect a cell culture to look after itself during your three-day weekend,” he joked.

The second reason, he said, is that a lot of life sciences R&D work is still done with old-fashioned tools.

“It’s surprisingly hands-on: there’s pen and paper, machines to look after, and fragile processes that are easily derailed.”

Levy-Yurista said this could change in the future, but for now, it isn’t feasible.

“Yes, there’s software to help, but only for individual point solutions. Change won’t happen until we can digitize entire experiments to help biologists work to their own schedules.”

For life sciences companies to adopt a model in which everyone gets a three-day weekend at the same time, Levy-Yurista said a bigger change is needed.

“Being a scientist is a mindset rather than a uniform,” he said. “We need to shift to the idea of ‘I’m a scientist, no matter where I am.’ If we get the idea we can log on anywhere to begin working, maybe only then are we in a position where we can look at a shorter workweek.”

Meeting in the Middle

Still, there are other ways to reduce work hours without shutting down for an extra day. Though a majority of companies in the study chose a four-day week, others reduced hours in ways that allowed the organization to keep its regular hours by staggering employee time off.

11 of the companies that participated did not have a common day off among staff, and 7% of respondent firms had staff who changed their days off from week to week.

Reducing hours in these ways could provide a way for research or patient-centered organizations to reduce employee hours without compromising their deadlines or quality of care.

In a fast-paced and competitive industry like biopharma, reducing working hours could not only improve morale but give employees some much-needed respite. For many, that peace of mind is worth more than money.

70% of employees who participated in the trial stated they would require a higher salary of between 10-50% to go back to a 40-hour week, and 8% said they would need a raise of 50% or more. 15% of employees said no amount of money would convince them to return to a traditional 40-hour week.

The change was positive for employers as well. According to the report, a majority of employers reported an increase in productivity. These results mirror a 2019 study conducted by Microsoft Japan in which a four-day workweek resulted in a 40% increase in productivity.

“When you realize 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 realize that to go back to working on a Friday would feel really wrong - stupid actually,” an unnamed CEO of a consultancy company stated in the U.K. report.