Yesterday marked the start trial of about 70 companies in the UK 'taking part in what is thought to be the world's biggest pilot scheme into the working pattern over the next six months'. They will be working a four-day week for the same pay and delivering the same productivity. I have previously written about this trial in my ebriefing. It seems however, that as reported in Inside Housing (May 2022 edition) Causeway Irish Housing Association is impressively ahead of the curve on this new way of 'doing work'. Causeway introduced a four-day week back in 2017. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation prompted calls for a rehaul of current working practices. And by all accounts it is a great success. The Chief Executive is quoted as saying that “our sickness rates dropped to almost zero. And staff satisfaction went right up and there was no corresponding dip in tenant satisfaction or financial key performance indicators”.
How does a four-day week work?
The premise of the trial launched today is that staff receive the same pay, create the same productivity but work less days. It is not clear whether Causeway do a similar thing – the article notes that five days compressed into four did not work and so staff went onto four day shifts with the understanding that it was reviewed each year. A good example for organisations of the need to be pragmatic and flexible when addressing new work patterns.
But does it really work?
A quick internet search will provide any amount of anecdotal evidence about how effective four-day weeks are for worker satisfaction without sacrificing productivity. That certainly seems to ring true at Causeway. However, it is not without its problems and will not fit the working practices of all organisations.
There are inevitably going to be issues and problems to iron out: How do you treat existing part time workers who work four days a week and receive a pro-rated salary?; How do you accrue holidays - is it based on five days’ worth of productivity or four days’ worth of work?; How do you extend the four working days without impacting on staff who need certain hours because of family responsibilities?
Can we ignore it?
I would go out on a limb and say that organisations within the sector ignore this initiative at their peril! As I noted in my recent blog on the Great Resignation here, organisations need to innovate if they are to hold onto valuable staff and attract others. A four-day week may be part of that piece although of course it is so much bigger.
Organisations such as Causeway which show a willingness to innovate and challenge the long-held status quo may find that they can attract and retain better talent. However, that is not to say that there will not be challenges. Causeway still review the practice each year although we don’t know what specific KPIs they use in that review or how they would revert back to a five-day week. They are also clear with what work must be completed within the truncated week. As their CEO said “we were really clear with people that there’s a certain amount of work to do. It’s all got to be accomplished”.
The four-day week maybe a game changer, it may have huge benefits but organisations which seek to implement it will need to do so mindful of the issues it will throw up and the need to continuously assess its success and sustainability.
"You can be 100% productive in 80% of the time in many workplaces, and companies adopting this around the world have shown that."