Scottish public sector workers have started working a four-day week to test whether the practice could be rolled out country-wide.

The Scottish Government confirmed a pilot was underway involving around 140 staff at South of Scotland Enterprise doing a 32-hour week without loss of pay.

Although this represents only three hours less per week, the shift to four day working is seen as key to changing people's work-life balance. 

The move follows Humza Yousaf announcing the experiment as part of his Programme for Government last September. 

It was confirmed in a written parliamentary answer by economy secretary Neil Gray.

He said: “Work has commenced on the 4 Day Working Week Public Sector Pilot to assess the wellbeing, environmental and productivity benefits a 4 Day Working Week could bring.

“We have appointed [think tank] Autonomy as our expert partner to support the pilot. 

“The team involved in this project has previous 4 Day Working Week pilot experience including from the Valencian Government pilot, and the Icelandic public sector pilot.

“The South of Scotland Enterprise 4 Day Working Week pathfinder work is being folded into Autonomy’s methodology, and engagement will continue with other public bodies interested in participating in the 32-hour working week pilot.

“Autonomy will also provide support and evaluate organisations moving to a contractual 35 hour working week. 

“This will capture valuable insights from a wider range of public bodies on different shorter work week models and be included in the 4 Day Working Week evaluation report.”

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The pilot is expected to run around 12 months to see if it can extended across the Scottish public sector and inspire the private sector to adopt it.

In 2022, a six-month pilot involving 61 companies employing 2,900 people in the UK ended with 56 of the firms reporting they would continue with the system, 18 permanently.

Employees reported feeling less stressed, anxious, fatigued and sleepless afterwards, while company revenues stayed broadly the same or higher.

Almost one in six employees said they would not accept a return to a five-day week.

Green MSP Ross Greer, whose question elicited the information, said normalising a four-day working week with no loss of pay would transform workers’ health and wellbeing. 

Mr Greer, whose party has had a four-day week for staff since 2022, said: “The four-day working week has a transformative impact on work-life balance, health and happiness. 

“It means people can spend more time with their families, friends and loved ones and it helps employers retain staff and boost productivity.

“We have seen the benefits for ourselves, including better job satisfaction and a reduction in stress. The Scottish Government is rightly leading by example with these pilots. 

“They will provide a lot of useful evidence and lessons which will in turn help other sectors and businesses to make the shift.”

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Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said: “We're very pleased to be working with the Scottish Government on this historic trial.

“Alongside those who are already underway with the pilot and others who have already expressed interest, we will be looking to sign up a number of public sector organisations as the year progresses.

“A four-day week with no loss of pay has been trialled extensively across the private sector and parts of the public sector to great success: it’s important that we find out if it can also work in public sector organisations in Scotland.”

Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, added: “Numerous trials and pilots from across the world have shown that a four-day week with no loss of pay increases productivity and improves work-life balance.

“It is working extremely well for many businesses in the private sector so it's only right and fair to see if those benefits can be applied to the public sector.

“One hundred years ago we moved from a six-day week to a five-day week. It's great to see Scotland now leading the charge towards a four-day week."