Atom Bank: making a success of the four-day week

The four-day week has been in the news of late, but its success depends on employers adapting it to their own needs, as Atom Bank has found.



Atom Bank is a digital-only bank and part of the upcoming challengers in the fintech sector. It makes sense therefore that it is at the forefront of new ways of working that offer more work life balance – the Holy Grail for parents.

In 2021 the bank began a four-day week trial in September 2021 and, three years on, it is still operating on that basis with good results all round.  In part the decision was prompted by the Covid experience – it was a recognition that the world of work had changed and that people wanted more than what they got from traditional ways of working. They particularly wanted a better work life balance. As an employer the four-day week pilot was also a chance to make Atom Bank more attractive and to make it stand out in the fintech world. For employees it gave them more time and the ability to switch off. “It was about mutual benefits for the bank and its people,” says Katie Pace, People Operations Lead. She adds that the Bank’s CEO Mark Mullen had done his research, could see the benefits and was a big advocate of the trial.

Business as normal

A few years on, she says the four-day week has just become business as normal. While some are adventurous and use the extra time to run marathons and the like, for many it is just about having a bit more time to do household chores and relax. The data has been very favourable. Seasonal absence rates and long term sickness have dropped to a quarter of what they were. Attrition rates are also down and the company’s engagement score continues to rise, and was up 3% in the last year. Employees are enthusiastic about the wellness benefits.

The bank has worked out its own way to make the four-day week work. As a regulated bank it is operational five days a week and cannot just shut down on a Friday. The customer support team works seven days a week, with shifts now shorter than they were before and different patterns for rest periods. The rest of the bank functions five days a week, but the hours are split between team members. Monday to Thursday is the preferred pattern, but 30% work Tuesday to Friday. Employees haven’t dropped a full day. Instead they have reduced to a 34-hour week and added an hour to the other working days in order to maintain productivity. All the metrics show that they are either maintaining a steady performance or improving.

Small efficiencies

Asked how they have made it work on fewer hours, Pace says it is through small efficiencies, such as people putting their working hours and holidays in their email signatures and looking at ways to cut back on meeting times. For operational roles there are good handover notes and ensuring deadlines are met. Other changes include a change to calculating annual leave based on hours rather than days which means people can take a couple of hours out to attend a school event and use annual leave for that rather than taking a whole afternoon off.  “It has been a learning curve,” says Pace, “but people were motivated to make it work.”

She adds that being a smaller bank – when they started the pilot they had 450 staff and now have 540 – it has been easier to experiment and adapt. She recognises that it might be a bit harder for bigger legacy banks. She admits the model doesn’t work for all employees, for instance, parents with young children might not be able to do longer days, but the model is not forced on them. For instance, they are free to do shorter hours over five days.

One of the reasons there was little opposition, besides employees’ willingness to make it work, may be because Atom Bank made a big point of communicating regularly about what they were doing and seeking feedback. They held monthly company-wide updates about the metrics in an effort to bring everyone along. They also took on board the feedback.

Asked if there was any pushback from customers, Pace says that most of the metrics related to customer service and no detriment has been detected to date. Indeed the bank has a five star rating on Trust Pilot. The changes are now permanent and stand alongside other flexible working policies, such as hybrid working. “I understand resistance to something that is completely new,” says Pace in response to a question about some policymakers’ opposition to the four-day week, but I would not be surprised if it becomes more common. It’s all about what people want out of work now.”

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