Is Work-Life-Balance a 4-Day Week Or Is It Easier Than That?

Recently we saw organisations globally embracing World Mental Health Day and taking the time to focus on mental wellbeing and we wanted to share our take on work-life-balance.

Whilst awareness days like these are undoubtedly fantastic in getting the conversations out in the open and huge strides are being made in challenging the stigmas that have previously surrounded mental health problems, more must be done to make mental health an intrinsic consideration within businesses.

At Other Media we’ve had a Work-Life-Balance Day policy in force for the last 10 years. This means that in any month that doesn’t have a bank holiday, team members are given the last Friday of the month as a discretionary (read on and we’ll explain that bit!) extra day off. It’s a popular perk here and we’re proud to give work-life-balance the emphasis it deserves. We do it because agency life and launch deadlines can be stressful, however much you plan and try to pre-empt problems and issues. Having a safety valve of a three day weekend at the end of the month is a way of us keeping our team at their best and making sure that everyone is as motivated and focussed when they are working on high-profile and high-pressure projects.

The 4-Day Week Experiments

There have been a variety of experiments hitting the headlines, hailing from the likes of Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand, trialing a 4-day week. In these trials, typically, workers are supported to get the same amount of work done, but in less time. Employees are paid the same, but are working approximately 4/5 of the hours they were previously working.

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based trust and wills organisation, asked its employees to work a 4-day week instead of 5, whilst still being paid for 5 days work. The caveat was that they were to still produce the same outcomes but in this shorter time frame.

The driver behind the trial is explained by CEO and Founder, Andrew Barnes: “We want people to be the best they can be while they’re in the office, but also at home. It’s the natural solution.”

Christine Brotherton, Head of People and Capability, said, “If employees are engaged with their job and employer, they are more productive. We believe efficiency will come with more staff focus and motivation, and this trial is a valuable and timely way to test our theories.”

So it was left to the teams to work out how they would work smarter, and make changes to systems and processes to deliver the same outcomes by improving productivity. Workers knew that if this worked, it could be a reality permanently, which was a great motivating factor.

Efficiency is Key

Making a shorter working week effective is a bit like packing for a trip. If you have a big suitcase, you can take all the luggage you like, you don’t have to make too many decisions. If you have a small suitcase, you have to be clever about how you utilise that space. You have to prioritise and plan carefully. You have to be efficient in your use of space in order to still get the same out of your trip. It’s the same with time. If you have an outcome to achieve and a limited time to do it in, you must plan, prioritise and work smart.

When streamlining the working week or working month, this efficiency is the key. If you have staff motivated to complete their work in a short space of time but still deliver the same standard of work, they are motivated to find smart ways to get things done well.

Work-life balance improved; stress reduced

As a result of the Perpetual Guardian trial 24% of employees said their work-life balance had improved, and 7% saw reduced stress. Meanwhile, company leadership reported no drop in productivity and there is incentive for the staff to maintain productivity in order to keep to a 4-day week.

Happy employees are important for a company. Happy employees are less likely to quit and high staff turnover is costly and disruptive. Happy employees are more likely to be productive and achieving a happy working environment positively impacts everyone.

Happy employees are important for society. As we are beginning to realise as a society, mental health problems are affecting so many of us. If we can start to tackle this in the workplace and support employees to achieve a better work-life balance, we can start to work to a less stressed, anxious and burnt-out society. A happier society.

Is a 4-Day Week Sustainable?

Not all of these trials have resulted in the long-term adoption of a 4-day working week. There have been some impressive results, but it’s not necessarily the right solution for every organisation, especially customer-facing ones with a small team of staff. We’d love to see more people dedicating more time to activities away from work, but a 4-day week isn’t the only way to encourage and enable this.

WLBDs at Other Media

Work-Life-Balance Days (affectionately known as WLBDs amongst our team) are, as mentioned, a discretionary extra day off on the last Friday of the month in months where there is no bank holiday. We could just give everyone an extra 6 or 7 days annual leave, but this is about balance. We want everyone to take some extra time out from work spread throughout the year.

The discretionary element means that if there is an exceptionally busy period with a deadline that we can’t plan for well enough in advance, then the WLBD might have to be deferred.

Whilst the idea of a 4-day week is tempting, there is still the client-service element to consider. If you have a large number of employees that are able to spread their resource across the week to still cover 5 (or 6 or 7) days of customer service with each employee still working a 4-day week, then that is ideal! For us, absorbing 1/30 or so of the month into each month is very do-able with a little planning and is a really appreciated bonus by the team.

We are also proud to let our clients and partners see that they are working with valued team members here at Other Media. Our team work smart and hard and we’re producing some impressive results. It’s only fair, then, that we treat them well!