Culling meetings and being told to close down email when working on a task – these are just some of the initiatives one company has taken to be able to fit five days’ worth of work into four.
As of last week, staff at AKA Case Management are being paid 100 per cent of their salary but for 80 per cent of the hours they would usually work, going from 40 to 32 hours per week. The brain injury case management firm is one of the 70 companies that has signed up for the world’s biggest pilot scheme into the working pattern over the next six months.
The trial is being organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. AKA has employees working from home across the country, with 14-full time employees taking part in the trial, including a few living in and around Manchester.
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Staff have been divided into those who have either Friday or Monday off, allowing for a three-day weekend, but also so there is still cover for their clients across the typical five-day business week. Andrew Rose, a director at the firm, who usually works from his home office in New Mills, near Stockport, in the Peak District, instead spent his Monday in Lyme Park with his children.
“I have a little boy who is four so I spent a day with him, which I don’t usually get to do,” Andrew says. “My daughter, who is five, had an inset day at school too so we went to Lyme Park, had a walk and went to the play area.
“My partner and I were also getting the house ready for guests staying later that week, so it meant we didn’t have that stress of working late and trying to do it. When my little boy goes to school in September, it will be about getting out walking and doing things for me.
“And further down the line, I will probably look for voluntary work as well. I’m looking forward to my retirement, which isn’t for quite a while yet, but actually preparing for what my life will be like when I retire so I don’t get that cliff edge of, ‘what do I do now?’”
The 47-year-old, who has been at AKA for five years, says it was a no-brainer for the firm to join the trial. He explains: “Wellbeing has always been something really important to us.
“As a business, we support individuals with complex brain injury in the community… we’re wanting them to look after themselves… if we’re not doing that, then how can we be truly modelling that behaviour? I’ve been looking at four-day weeks ever since the first trials around the world, it’s something we thought would be beneficial.
“But we thought it would be a few years down the line – then we saw the global trial come up. We had about a 30-second discussion and thought ‘let’s go for it’.
“It’s supported by research, which is fabulous, that provides us with feedback and support in the trial. We just thought it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
Andrew believes the way a four-day week can be achieved is through a change in behaviours. He argues workforces have got into “bad habits”.
“We now use email in a way it wasn’t designed to be used – it’s used nowadays as a synchronous tool. If I send someone an email they expect it’s being opened and read immediately, we all have our emails open all of the time, which isn’t an efficient way of working,” he adds.
Andrew and his co-director armed their staff with a tool kit of evidence-based suggestions on how to work more efficiently. One of which is monotasking – where you just work on one thing at a time.
If you’re working on a report, sign out of your email and close down the internet, he suggests. If you have two computer screens on and don’t need two, turn the other off to avoid distraction.
As expected, there was an initial fear among the team of having to work over the designated 32-hours to get things done. This is something Andrew says staff have to be open and honest about.
“We’ve not told anyone ‘this is what you’ve got to do.’ We’ve said ‘let us know what you want to try’ and all of our staff are really passionate about it and really excited by it,” he says.
“That’s not to say we haven’t had, along the way, doubts about ‘how are we going to do this?’ ‘Does this mean people are going to be under more pressure?’ We trust and believe in our staff to know what will work for them.
“We have handovers in place and systems on how to manage things. But I think having looked at how much time we lost in being inefficient, I think we all kind of got to the point of going ‘actually, no, we probably do lose a day a week by being ineffective’, to be honest.”
One principle Andrew speaks of is Parkinson’s Law – where work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Another talked about in the trial is simply stopping things – if you find something is needed then start doing it again, but don’t if they don’t add value.
A big one is also getting rid of unnecessary meetings without an agenda, which could be replaced with an email instead. “You might attend meetings and think why am I here?” Andrew asks.
“One of the things they say [the trial experts] is if you have an hour-long meeting, start by reducing it by 10 minutes. You’ll find when you know you have 50 minutes you’ll still get everything done.
“We might replace our monthly two-hour operations meeting with much shorter, more regular meetings. There are lots of little things and behaviours that add up and it’s not trying to say ‘we wasted loads of our time’, it’s just there are lots of things that have come into our world that have just created that environment.”
Andrew hopes the new working pattern will boost overall job satisfaction, which will benefit their work as a result. “We’re really, really positive about it giving people that break and chance to recharge their batteries,” he says.
“One of the big things we talked about with staff was what they were going to do for themselves and their wellbeing. We’re hopeful it will work and we think it will.
“The outcome for the clients is that they have people full of energy, full of enthusiasm and ideas, and therefore they get better outcomes as well.” Researchers will work with each participating organisation to measure the impact on productivity and the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.
Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said: “The UK is at the crest of a wave of global momentum behind the four-day week. As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge.
“The impact of the ‘great resignation’ is now proving that workers from a diverse range of industries can produce better outcomes while working shorter and smarter.” Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, and lead researcher on the pilot, said: “We’ll be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life.
“The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple dividend policy – helping employees, companies, and the climate. Our research efforts will be digging into all of this.”
Is your workplace trialling the four-day week? Get in touch at email@example.com.
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