4 day working weeks – can they work in the legal profession? I suspect for a lot of employers the whole concept of remote working is still the key issue being grappled with at the moment, let alone reducing everyone in the company from a 5 day week to a 4 day week! However times are a-changing, and a lot of business owners are falling below employees’ expectations of employment practices. So many employees now see the benefits of working in companies offering remote working, flexible working and alternative work practices, despite the recent push-back from some employers to return to more rigid structures and office-based teams.
Working hours and remote working remain the number 1 issue for recruitment of locum and permanent solicitors.
Taillte Mallon, our business development manager for Jonathan Fagan Business Brokers, our law firm & accountancy practice M&A company, has recently looked into the concept on behalf of our company, and attended a Help to Grow seminar on implementing a four day week across a company.
Dr Dale Whelehan – 4 Day Week Global
4 Day Week Global are a not-for-profit organisation helping businesses run pilot schemes to establish a 4 day work week within a business, The organisation launched in 2018 and now has expanded into 6 continents. Dale discussed how the 5 day work week was established during the industrial revolution over 200 years ago and is not necessarily aligned to the way we work and the structure of society in the modern day.
6 Month Pilot Scheme
The organisation offers a 6 month pilot scheme for $1,999, whereby any company or organisation can get expert assistance and documentation to convert from 5 day weeks to 4 day weeks. They base their pilot models on an 100-80-100 structure. 100% pay, 80% time, 100% output. The data produced from these pilots is objective. They obtain the data through academic studies and through university channels. A lot of companies the organisation has worked with are hybrid or work from home businesses.
Results of 4 Day Weeks
When looking at companies running pilot schemes within the U.K, the revenue for the businesses within the study rose 1.4% on average and there was 57% less attrition during the trial period. It is important to note however that the 4 day work week programme is more focused on the benefits it has to the employees to a business than the advantages it can have to the profit of the business.
In the U.K the companies that were using this pilot reported that 54% of staff felt a reduction in negative emotions and 39% felt less stress. There was also a 40% reduction in sleep difficulties reported. There was an overall reduction in levels of burn out report by 71% of the participants and 73% of participants reported having greater time satisfaction. The amount of time that men spent looking after their children doubled from 13% to 26%.
Structure of a 4 Day Week
The structure of the 4-day work week is up to the company whether it is 4 calendar days of work or the hourly equivalent of removing one day of work. The main focus is reducing the total amount of working hours in a week. It is more of a conversation with everyone in the company rather than a dictation when it comes to implementing the programme.
The financial component is also very important to think about when it comes to this. How much would it cost to take the company into a 4 day work week and is it a cost that you can or would be willing to afford. It might take the companies profit down before it rises. This all needs to be assessed before it can be implemented.
Another question to ask is what does productivity look like within the company and how can you measure that in terms of the hours spent in an average 5 day week compared to the 4 day week and what affect it would have on the business.
Each company and each sector of business is different. It is easier for some to adopt this model than others; for example the service industry and the charitable sector might find it harder to change their structure and business model to suit the 4 day work week.
Start Up Business – Go 4 Days from Scratch!
Another interesting topic that was brought up was how to implement it within a start up business. The studies done have showed that many start ups have benefitted from the pilot and it is arguably the best place to start the 4 day work week as it can be implemented without any fundamental changes to the culture and the structure of the company, as compared to businesses that are up and running already. The size of the business also doesn’t matter to the pilot schemes as it has been led by SMEs throughout the world and it is an SME initiative.
Laura Whyte – Accountant – Example Company
Laura White runs an accountancy practice that has adopted the 4-day work week into her business. After covid she sought to use the benefits that they had learned over the lockdown period and put it into the business permanently. The main point she discussed was communication with the staff at her firm. She took the idea to the staff and consulted them on how they would want to approach the 4-day week and implemented it in two stages. The first was a cut down from 40 hours a week to 34 hours a week and the second stage was from 34 to 32.
The company had initially been set on the day that each employee would have off, but as time went on they became more flexible. This a office based company with no working from home and the office is still open 5 days a week but every member of staff has their day off within the week.
Cost to the Business
Laura also discussed the cost that this would have to the business as they would be losing 20% of their chargeable hours. They looked at the amount of time that the employees were using on non-chargeable work and then employed two administration assistants to take over that workload so that the accountants could use more of their time towards chargeable hours. Laura also demonstrated how they measured the increase of profits within the business.
Accountants (like most lawyers) view every 6 minutes as a unit, and bill their clients on those units. So with her accountants having more time during the days worked to charge for more hours, it was clear to track how much more money they were able to bring into the business with the addition of the new staff to take over the non-chargeable work.
A key thing that Laura was concerned about when taking this on was the feedback she would receive from clients. She had thought about how they would perceive the company employing a 4 day work week and how that might negatively impact their perception of the business and if they would like ‘well if you can afford to pay your staff the same wages and have them work one less day are you charging me too much?’ From the time it has been in place she has received nothing but positive feedback from clients and their profit has been boosted. The reputation of the business has flourished which has also led to bringing in new talent without the worry for recruitment costs.
Another aspect that Laura discussed was the culture in the workplace. Morale has been boosted by the 4 day work week within the company, sickness is down within the business as a whole and staff have saved money in their personal lives as well as the costs that have been saved by the firm. She also noted that recruitment costs have been cut down massively as the company has become more desirable for potential employees with the new structure in place.
Summary and Key Points
Overall, there are 4 things to measure when implementing a 4-day work week.
- Reduced attrition
- Increased productivity
- Greater output
- Attracting top talent.
Reduced attrition concerns the retention of staff and corporate knowledge.
Increased productivity is concerned with reducing the absences of the workforce within the company which boosts the productivity.
Greater output is increasing productivity due to the reduced level of burn out within the staff.
Attracting top talent is becoming the employer of choice to people and having greater recruitment of staff to grow the business.
Deciding to implement a 4-day work week isn’t a decision that can be made without extensive forethought and the consideration of the staff members of the company. It is a decision that benefits the people who work within the company which will in turn benefit the business itself in whatever way it is implemented within the business. It’s a collaborative effort in prioritising time within the business and working hard and living well at the same time.
Striking the Balance Between Work and Life
In general terms it is a psychological intervention on how to be productive and how to strike the balance between work and life.
Taillte Mallon is Business Development Manager at Jonathan Fagan Business Brokers Limited. Taillte has a BA (Hons) in History with English from Ulster University and a PgDL from the University of Law. Taillte works with law firm buyers and sellers across the UK and internationally, and is involved in the ongoing development of the company. She has a love for books and enjoys reading in peace and quiet, but is also fond of a gin and sprite on the weekends!