In November 2021, Atom bank took a progressive lead in reshaping the future of work, becoming the first UK bank, to move all employees to a four-day working week, with no change of salary. The change in culture was met with some criticism, however, six months down the line, Atom continued implementation of this rule has been found successful. So we decided to ask the fintech industry, is the four-day working week the future? Or has Atom’s success been an anomaly?
Atom made the shift in recognition of people having longer working lives, the positive impact of technology, flexible working and the need to live and work more sustainably. The implementation of a four-day week aimed to support employee mental and physical wellbeing, enabling people to enjoy a healthier work/life balance, while simultaneously improving levels of business performance.
Initial responses to a four-day work week
Five months after Atom’s big move, at the AltFi Festival of Finance, the topic of four-day working weeks was once again brought to the fore on a panel, with Karen Kerrigan, Moneybox chief operating officer; Tom Morisse, strategy and planning associate, people, SpenDesk; Federico Travella, CEO, Novicap and Sam Perry, strategic alliances director, Globalization Partners.
During the discussion, Travella said: “I personally disagree with the four-day working week,” pointing out it was a lot easier for bigger firms to introduce. He said it in some cases it had been introduced as a tool to keep hold of employees and that it could prove problematic if there was a high workload and not enough staff to manage the workload.
“I don’t know how realistic it is in the long-term, especially for high growth businesses,” he said.
Kerrigan also expressed concerns about it, saying that she thought businesses might be introducing it in some cases to prevent employees from leaving. However, not all the panellists agreed with this sentiment as Perry pointed out many organisations in Dubai had introduced the four-day work week with very positive responses.
Called into question… again
The discussion surrounding the legitimacy of a four-day work week in the fintech space has continued for months, but as more organisations have trialled it and more have found flaws with it, the four-day week has once again hit the headlines. However, Atom bank’s successful implementation shows there is hope for the four-day work week, and attempting to drive home the point even further, Atom listed the benefits of an extra day off:
Impact on employees
One objective of the introduction of a four-day week was to attract and retain talent more effectively and data reveals this has been a success. There was a 49 per cent increase in applications for roles at Atom in January 2022, compared to January 2021, and headcount has grown from 461 in November 2021 to 480 in June 2022, thanks also to a reduction in the number of departures. This has been vital, with the fight for talent becoming fiercely competitive following the widespread adoption of hybrid working following the pandemic.
Contrary to much of the scepticism around the shift, employee surveys reveal that almost all (91 per cent) people can accomplish everything they need to in four days. It is also encouraging to see that employee productivity at the bank has improved, with nearly all (92 per cent) people stating that they have found efficiencies in how they work as a result of the shorter week. This has included streamlining processes and working more collaboratively within their teams to ensure tasks are completed.
Productivity levels have also been measured by each department in relation to business outcomes. These metrics are specific to each of the 10 departments within Atom and measure productivity in terms of business performance and service to customers. For example, in Operations, 10 metrics are measured, including service levels and email responses to customers. The data collated for the six months to April reveals that across all of the 165 departmental metrics tracked, the success rate has in fact improved since the introduction of a four-day working week.
Employees are clearly more motivated working a four-day week too. Almost all (92 per cent) report that they look forward to work, and there has been a significant (13 per cent) year on year increase in people engagement in February 2022 compared to February 2021 when staff were last surveyed. Days lost to sickness have also declined since the introduction of the new working structure, dropping from 100 in the month of November 2021, to 72 in June 2022.
Impact on customer service
One of the most critical metrics associated with a four-day week is the potential impact it has on the level of service a business is able to provide. Since its introduction, there has in fact been a positive impact on customer service, with Atom’s Trust Pilot score increasing from 4.54 at the start of the new working structure to an impressive 4.82 in June 2022.
Furthermore, customer goodwill has increased from 83.1 per cent in November 2021 to 85.8 per cent in June this year. Alongside this, there has also been a slight reduction in customer complaints, down from 79 complaints during the month of November 2021 to 73 complaints during April 2022.
Industry’s response – is four the magic number?
Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer at Atom, said: “Over six months on from introducing our new four-day working week, it’s clear that it has been a huge success for our business and our people. We are extremely proud of how our employees have adapted and the benefit it has brought to many.
“People are rightly looking for a healthier work/life balance, and despite warnings from some sceptics, our metrics and people surveys show that this has not had a negative impact on employees or customer service. In fact, it has been the opposite, with happier, more efficient, and more productive people who are even more driven to help us change banking for the better.
“Moving to a four-day week has meant a fundamental shift in our operating model and working practice. We did not expect that it would be easy, and knew there would be challenges along the way. That’s why we have adopted the mindset that we need to work hard to overcome these difficulties in order to make the shift work. Our business and people have benefited from this persistence, which is certainly required if you are to challenge traditional ways of working that have been in place for almost 100 years.
“We firmly believe the four-day week is the future of working life and it is encouraging to now see the range of businesses across the UK embracing the four-day week trials. We are a progressive bank and a progressive employer, and our experience in planning for and moving to a four-day week has shown that it is possible for businesses to do this and bring huge benefits to their people.
“We believe most organisations can move to a four-day week and we hope Atom’s experiences will encourage more businesses to make the shift permanently.”
Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “Atom bank’s experience shows that a four-day week with no loss of pay is a win-win for workers and employers.
“Companies should embrace the four-day week as a way of boosting productivity, improving wellbeing and to help with job retention.
“The 9-5, 5 day working week is outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”
Fintech recruitment agency, EC1 Partners‘ managing director EMEA, Jake Gottlieb told The Fintech Times: “What a lot of our candidates are asking about in the interview process is flexible working, but not specifically the four day week. That would be a huge change in attitude, more so than just flexible working. It is essentially saying weekends are now three days, not two days, whereas flexible working is, working five days a week, but picking where you work, and in turn receiving flexibility from employers in that regard.
“And there is a difference between the two. Although both provide flexibility and freedom, they are two very different types of flexibility and freedom. As you would be working fewer days, getting more done on the days you are actually working would be necessary. I have found some roles need the customer-facing interaction you get from going into the office, and a four-day week would only minimise this. Sales teams are a prime example of this.
“Working for a global fintech recruitment business, I have to say not a lot of our clients have adopted the four-day week. However, implementing some form of a flexible working model has been something our clients have done, and this is truly the best way to retain talent, not necessarily through a four-day week. Ultimately, however, it isn’t binary. What works for one company may not work for the next so companies will have to experiment and see what works best for them.”
Lissele Prat, COO and founder at Capitalixe, the payments and banking solution, said: “Although we are not yet at the four-day workweek, we have recently implemented a 4.5-day workweek, so everyone finishes at lunch time on Fridays.
“In all honesty, I was sceptical at first as I was worried that there would be a drop in productivity, especially since our business is fully remote, but the results have been quite the opposite.
“Times are changing rapidly, and for the fintech sector to continue evolving we also need to adapt to new ways of working to attract and retain top talent. This means having more flexibility in the workplace which is a key area Gen Z and young millennials entering the workforce value the most when job hunting.
“To give you proper insights on this, I also asked two of my team members how they were finding it, and these were the exact comments they said to me:
- “To me it feels like every week I have a mini holiday. This allows me to spend my time doing things I love such as walk outdoors, spending more quality time with my family, or even go out for a staycation somewhere in the UK or even abroad.”
- “For me it’s honestly been wonderful! I’m a single mum with two kids so it can be quite hectic and overwhelming at mines so it’s so great to have a free Friday afternoon! Makes such a difference to the weekend. I am truly grateful for this!”
“I am also a true believer that for my team to perform at their best, they also need to feel their best, and this shows in the increase in productivity that’s happened these past couple of months.
“So, there you have it, the results speak for themselves, we have an increase in productivity and my team are a lot happier. It’s a win/win situation for me!”
“Employees are now, more than ever, re-evaluating how work fits into life, not the other way around. Employers who truly value the whole employee personally and professionally will win out vs the ones who don’t. Perks like a 4-day work week is in line with what top talent is looking for – true work/life flexibility.” said, Dasle Hong, senior manager, employer brand and recruitment marketing, DailyPay, the payroll service provider.
CEO of Theta Global Advisors, Chris Biggs, said: “In today’s job environment, having a flexible work schedule is crucial for both attracting and retaining the best talent, especially in the fintech sector. For most companies though, this is in relation to flexibility surrounding when employees can start or finish work, rather than removing a whole day from the weekly calendar. However, there is real momentum growing behind the four-day work week movement, with the biggest pilot worldwide currently happening in the UK.
“Early reports would suggest that the findings are going to be positive, and this may cause other companies to follow suit. However, there are questions surrounding whether productivity will be affected and also if congesting the full workload of five days into a four-day week will actually have the opposite effect its intended to and cause worker burnout. It is crucial to consider these factors before implementation as all organisations have different needs – I’m sure for some businesses a four-day week would work really well, and for others not at all.”