A British bank, Atom Bank, has moved to a four-day work week for all of its 430 employees, making it the latest company to join a trend of firms experimenting with shorter working hours to see if they can reduce workers’ stress while keeping productivity up.
Employees now work 34 hours over four days and get Monday or Friday off, when previously they clocked up 37.5 hours across the whole week.
According to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mark Mullen, who has led the Durham-based bank since 2014, it was inspired by the pandemic and would help improve wellbeing and retain staff.
“Before COVID-19, the conventional wisdom was, you had to commute in, sit at a desk all day and repeat that process when you commuted home.
“COVID-19 showed us that it wasn’t necessary… I think doing 9-5 hours, Monday to Friday is a pretty old fashioned way of working.”Mark Mullen
Mr Mullen noted that the new arrangement was voluntary, but strongly reflected his staff’s preferences for more flexible working time.
“Everyone is expected to stick to it, I can’t be sending my staff emails on a Friday, I can’t expect to them to respond to them.”
Mr Mullen said workers would still get paid the same and enjoy a “three day weekend in perpetuity”.
Working patterns have changed over time. In the 19th Century most British workers worked six days a week, but in the 1930s Henry Ford in the US and pharmacy chain Boots in the UK popularised the two-day weekend as a way of boosting wellbeing and productivity.
Now, calls for a four-day work week are growing amid similar claims that it could improve people’s lives.
Recent research found trials of a four-day week among public sector workers in Iceland were an “overwhelming success” and helped reduce stress and burnout.
Interestingly, Microsoft Japan stated that sales had been boosted by nearly 40% during an experiment in which staff worked a four-day week on full pay back in 2019.
‘Increased Exposure to Stress’
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, averred that, “It is undoubtedly a positive move for employers to seek to reduce people’s working hours without compromising pay”.
“However, I think the challenge of simply reducing people’s working hours without other changes is that, you can increase exposure to stress, which is already one of the main causes of working time lost to sickness absence.”Ben Willmott
He also hopes it will help attract talent at time when staff attrition at the bank is “unusually” high due to the pandemic.
“With COVID-19 causing vast numbers of people to reconsider how they want to live their lives, anything that leads to more productive, healthier, and, crucially, happier colleagues, is a win for everyone.”Ben Willmott
Atom is one of the UK’s first digital challenger banks and had £2.7bn of loans on its books in the last financial year. Its new working arrangements kicked in on 1st November after a review found they would not affect customer service or productivity.