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Strong Businesses: The UK's Productivity Puzzle - Insights, Strategies, and the 4-Day Week

The Executive Summary:

  1. The UK's low productivity rates, currently at an average growth of 0.5% per year, necessitate strategic measures for improvement.

  2. Tactics such as redefining working patterns, utilising AI and technology, and prioritising, delegating, and delaying tasks can significantly boost productivity.

  3. The 100-80-100 model, trialled by over 60 UK companies, which involves a 4-day work week with maintained pay and productivity, reveals promising results for productivity enhancement.

  4. Aspirin's Leadership Gym provides a platform for exploring diverse strategies, revealing key takeaways like the minimum viable product principle, the importance of early issue detection, and the need for strategic delegation.


Facing mounting energy, supplier and salary costs, coupled with the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining talent, we're compelled to deliver more with less. This, in essence, is productivity, an area where the UK has room for improvement.

Productivity can be loosely defined as a measure of how smart we work instead of how hard we work. It’s a balancing act between output and input. From 1974 to 2008, UK productivity grew steadily at an average annual rate of 2.3%. Then, it nosedived to a persistently low rate of around 0.5%. This puts us in the backseat compared to other nations. The mystery surrounding the UK's productivity slump has left economists scratching their heads.

In May's Aspirin's Leadership Gym, we focused our lens on productivity. We delved into its measurement, the driving force to boost it, alterations in working patterns, and the merits of unmasking issues sooner rather than later. We also scrutinised strategies like prioritising, deciding whether to drop, delegate, delay, or then do tasks, and the role of tech apps and AI in productivity (examples include Salesforce, Asana, Harvest, Cloud Accounting, and more).

The most popular actions our Gym Members took away included:

  • Striving for a Minimum Viable Product

  • Unveiling issues early by Dropping the Water Level

  • Gauging productivity

  • Leveraging AI and tech

  • Choosing to Drop and Delegate before reflexively doing

Productivity, being a blend of quality and quantity as well as efficiency and effectiveness, is tricky to quantify. Organisations often resort to ratios like turnover (or profit) divided by staff costs, reflecting productivity per person. The rise of AI and automation gives this measure even more food for thought. Others use ‘billable or client hours’, while some measure it by transactions processed or pieces manufactured - a method known as piecework, formerly common in the hosiery industry.

Exploring working patterns yielded intriguing insights for our Gym Members. They were drawn to the model illustrating how to trim work hours while preserving, or even amplifying, revenue.

Similarly, in the UK, over 60 companies ran a 4-day workweek trial from June to December 2022, using the 100-80-100 model. Here, workers received 100% pay for working 80% of their former hours, pledging in return to uphold 100% productivity.

The outcome?

Business revenue broadly held its ground, sick days plummeted by 65%, and 71% of employees reported fewer instances of burnout. A whopping 91% of participating businesses said they would stick with the 4-day week, with 18 adopting it on a permanent basis.

So, what's the secret sauce for this productivity surge? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief innovation officer at ManpowerGroup and professor of business psychology at Columbia University and UCL, believes the answer lies in human nature.

He proposes, "People just work harder when you reward them with freedom and flexibility. In other words, if you are forcing people to spend five days at work for tasks they could accomplish in four, then let them have a four-day week."

This hypothesis seems a bit vague, and it begs the question - what's slipping through the cracks? We need to ponder the long-term impact of a 4-day week, all the while recognising its immediate benefits, such as reduced staff turnover and a mutual commitment to productivity.


NOW: What’s your current working model, e.g. 10 x 5 x 8.5?

WHERE: What would you like it to be?

HOW: What 2 – 3 things could you do to improve it?


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