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  • Nicky Webster-Hart

4 day weeks - why get paid for a day off?

There is no secret that hiring in 2022 is hard work. Those businesses that did try to hire during the first 6 - 9 months of COVID were struggling to attract candidates. Many candidates elected to sit and wait to see what happens, staying put in their businesses. Now it’s very much back to business and competition is fierce. So how do you, as a business, stay competitive and build an engaging employer brand that candidates are excited to apply to and want to join whilst maintaining productivity and talent retention?

Flexible working really is the holy grail

Candidates want their time back, they want the freedom to choose what hours they work and to do more with their family, friends or even for themselves. They don’t want to spend hours getting to an office, nor do they want to squeeze their fitness regime or walk with the dog into a lunchtime slot. A lot of re-evaluation of what work means to employees and how they can fit their lives into and around it went on during the pandemic. Those businesses that fail to offer enough flexibility and remote working are struggling to fill their roles. The missing link here is that micromanaging a team and needing to see bums on seats in an office does not mean that your teams will be more productive. Far from it. Employees are experienced enough and can be trusted to make their own decisions about where they do their best work.

We have to start enabling our employees to make these choices. For one that might be working 3 days a week from home, for another a full week in the office, another it may well be fully remote. The key here is to have motivated individuals who have the ability to work where they do their best work meaning where they are most productive. Ideas may well flow through office conversations and in person discussions, but it doesn’t mean that this cannot also happen through online meetings, telephone calls or chat applications. Many international organisations have teams that work cross border remotely and who are also delivering results for the company.

There is such a cross section in the approach here. Deloitte announced in 2021 that it would give all of its employees in the UK the ability to work from home forever. Goldman Sachs wants to see everyone back in the office. The perception being that it inhibits relationship building. The reality is down to the divergent cultures of these two businesses and that is where the differences will lie. Businesses need to start demonstrating that they trust their employees to do the work and the results will speak for themselves. Relationships are formed wherever, as noted above, international businesses work successfully with clients and colleagues across borders and offices. The same with clients - a face to face meeting is helpful but conversations are still possible on the telephone and via digital means. So how about bringing in a 4 day working week?

In June 2022, the UK embarked on the biggest trial of a four-day work week in the world. More than 3,300 employees at 70 companies agreed to work one day less, for full pay and a commitment to keep up their usual productivity levels.

The program is being trialled for six months by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global, Autonomy, a think tank, and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign in partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

Researchers will measure the impact the new working pattern will have on productivity levels, gender equality, the environment as well as well being. At the end of November, companies can decide whether or not to stick with the new schedule.

Studies suggest working one fewer day a week can lead to improvements in workers’ happiness and productivity, as well as increasing access to the labour market and having possible knock-on benefits for the environment thanks to the reduction in commuting.

According to the Guardian, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics back that up. In 2019, the UK’s output for each hour worked was lower than that of the US and France, while other G7 countries’ output per worker was 13% above the UK’s. But in terms of hours worked, research places the UK more than an hour above the EU average of 40.5 hours a week in 2019.

In the UK, 10 million people say they would like to work fewer hours, with 3 million willing to accept less pay in return.

So could offering your workforce the same pay for 4 days a week really be the ultimate in flexible working?

In Iceland between 2015 and 2019, a four-day-week trial among public-sector employees resulted in a “dramatic increase” in worker wellbeing. Afterwards, more than 80% of the country’s workforce negotiated shorter hours. Iceland had conducted (at that time) the world’s biggest pilot of a four-day work week. Between 2015 and 2019, the country put 2,500 of its public sector workers through two trials. Crucially, those trials found no corresponding drop in productivity but a dramatic increase in employee well-being.

In New Zealand, a 2018 pilot led to the company Perpetual Guardian making the changes permanent.

So it's looking like offering a 4 day working week will not only have no drop in productivity but will be beneficial to employee well-being and be a game changer in terms of company attractiveness of prospective employees. As with everything in life, everything isn’t right for everyone and choice and flexibility are key to all offerings. Perhaps, for that extra inclusive flexible approach employers could adopt a flexible 4 day approach where their employees choose the 4 days that work for them (this could really help parents with childcare or those who may need a ‘recovery’ day midweek to help with a medical condition). This certainly has positive results so far and there certainly seem to be many benefits so the question remains will UK businesses really embrace this idea?

Plenty of good reasons then for employees to get paid for a 4 day week and employers to adopt this policy to attract talent.

If you are looking for some advice in relation to recruitment and what you can do to position your employer brand to attract talent, get in touch with Auxeris. Our network of specialist recruiters are experienced at placing talented candidates, particularly in the most recent months. They are adept at building meaningful relationships with candidates and clients and will support you through your hiring journey. Get in touch today to find out more here.

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