When we look back at 2021, it was definitely the year when many people re-assessed their working lives due to the pandemic. Here at Nomad HR and Recruitment, we’ve seen how flexible working arrangements can bring a better work-life balance.
In years gone by, asking for a four-day working week may have seemed extraordinary. But these days it’s become a popular request in some workplaces.
The Beatles wrote ‘Eight Days A Week’ – apparently after drummer Ringo Starr used the expression to describe being over-worked – but now cutting that number by half could hit the right note for lots of people.
Four days a week is really ideal for me. I can achieve far more in four longer, productive days than I can in five energy-sapping ones.
There’s even been research carried out to demonstrate the benefits of the four-day working week. Take the example of Iceland – the country, not the supermarket. Workers there have been given the right to shorten their hours after a large-scale study in the public sector.
The HR news website People Management explained how 2,500 workers in Iceland took part in two trials in which their working week was reduced to 35-36 hours, without a reduction in pay.
The result showed benefits for employees and the business. Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved in most of the workplaces involved. The well-being of workers also improved, with staff reporting fewer cases of stress and a better work-life balance.
But if pay isn’t reduced in line with the days worked, surely there’s a financial impact on the employer? Not so. The trial found there was no negative impact financially. As a result, trade unions in Iceland successfully lobbied to cut working hours for tens of thousands of staff.
There’s been a similar story in New Zealand, where a university study found productivity increased by a fifth following the introduction of a shorter working week. It’s also thought that more leisure time can equate to more spending on the country’s tourism sectors.
Following the results in Iceland and New Zealand, Scotland will also trial a four-day week without loss of pay for workers. According to a BBC news report, Scotland’s Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested a Low Hours Commission to help implement the idea across the public and private sectors.
Just a few weeks ago, the online bank Atom introduced a four-day week for its 400-plus workforce without a cut in pay. Reflecting the experience in Iceland, Atom’s boss Mark Mullen told the BBC the move was inspired by the pandemic.
Atom’s employees now work 34 hours over four days and get Monday or Friday off. They work longer hours than previously on the days they are in. Mark said it would help to improve well-being and retain staff.
He added: “I think doing 9-5, Monday to Friday is a pretty old-fashioned way of working.” And it’s a view I whole-heartedly agree with. With remote working lengthening working hours for many, it’s time for a re-set. The Sun reported that other companies have adopted the same policy.
Looking at my own schedule, I can usually get the same amount of work completed in four longer days as I would in five regular days. That’s because I’m determined not to have to work on the Friday. It’s an incentive to get everything done.
Another good example is civil engineer Lee Harman. He told the BBC, he had been nervous about asking to switch to a four-day week.
“In construction we’re very male-dominated,” said Lee. “Working part-time just wasn’t done.” But over the past year he has shown it can be done. “I can manage my energy levels better like this,” he said.
"A senior role requires a degree of contemplation and space to think. It's really suiting me and the whole team too."
Having a senior position shouldn’t be a barrier to working four days. I’m sure that the clients I work with – who deal with senior roles – are willing to consider this option in order to secure the right person for the job.
Turn the clock back nine years and a survey of people in Great Britain found that nearly three-quarters felt it ‘wasn’t possible’ to have a senior job on apart-time basis. But Timewise, which campaigns for more flexible working, says things have changed.
The co-founder of Timewise, Karen Mattison, said the past year had shown people can work differently and it was time for employers to reflect that in the way they design and advertise jobs.
Just like The Beatles classic song, maybe it’s time for an updated version…