Experimenting for a more sustainable working life

Post Covid more and more employers are willing to experiment with new ways of working which apply to all employees, but flexibility also needs to be  tailored to individual needs.

Woman lying down and listening to music on headphones


The 4-Day Week Global campaign announced recently that employers who took part in a four-day week trial have continued to reduce their hours six months afterwards, with those hours dropping on average from 38 hours a week to just under 33 hours. It claims the reductions are achieved through greater efficiency rather than work intensification.

The thing about the 4-Day Week campaign is that it is being backed by academic research. The aim is that employers who take part commit to reducing their hours, but not the salaries they pay. Research on a UK trial also shows positive results, although different employers have implemented it in different ways. What is clear is that there is an appetite for experimentation with different ways of working and a dissatisfaction and questioning of old ways of doing this. Many books have been published on the subject in recent years.

The Guardian this week highlighted the experiences of one employer who gives all her staff the month of August off on the grounds that everyone was exhausted after Covid and needed time to recharge. Jo Hunter, CEO of 64 million artists, said: “We had much-needed reflection, recreation and family time; people came back feeling motivated and ready to work. Ideas that came into focus over that time have led to us growing our team, and our income this year, by almost 50%.”

It certainly won’t work for all sectors, but that is kind of the point. The general starting point is something many employers have in common – an exhausted, overstretched workforce who are being forced to work at a faster pace at greater intensity. How they make that more manageable so they can retain experience and expertise is down to them. What works in one sector may not work in another.

Many employers may not be able to book one whole month off – and this may not work for some employees who need more flexibility in when they take time out – but they have summer hours, finishing early on a Friday, for instance, in recognition that, depending on the sector, things tend to slow down a little when more staff and clients are away and in order to prepare for the ramping up of activity from September onwards.
For others term-time working may be a better option, allowing more flexibility at different points in the year – and not just for teachers.

Making term-time working more commonplace could be a better solution for parents in some cases than part-time working all year round. Different ways of working will work better for different people.

It could be argued that a four-day week and one month off for the summer do not constitute flexible working at all as they are a blanket approach. But the aim is the same in terms of retention and sustainability. On the positive side, the offering is universal so everyone benefits, but on the other hand they may not address individual needs. But it doesn’t have to be an either or situation.

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