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Four-day working week – from a trial to a permanent fixture

Four-day working week – from a trial to a permanent fixture | Insurance Business UK

Four-day working week – from a trial to a permanent fixture

Proponents of the benefits of a four-day working week recently received a morale boost following the definitive success of a global four-day working week trial, and the news that 100 UK companies have signed up for a permanent move to the option with no loss of pay. The 100 firms employ some 2,600 staff and the 4 Day Week Campaign group behind the drive is hoping their example will help bring transformative change to the UK’s working practices.

It’s not a development that has passed the insurance sector by, in large part thanks to the efforts of Chantel Emilius (pictured), executive director of culture & engagement at Freedom Services group – which rolled out a six-month trial of the initiative to great success. Speaking with Insurance Business UK, Emilius noted that she has spent the majority of her 16-year insurance career under the guidance of the firm’s founder Sam White – where she learnt a great deal about taking a human approach to business.

“I learnt a lot from her as to culture and how we behave with each other, and how she wants a business to run,” she said. “And she wants that human approach, she doesn’t want it to be transactional. I saw first-hand for 14 years how culture influences your organisation so I’m always banging the drum of it being at the foundation of any organisation. How we treat our employees comes back to us – if we treat our people well they’ll in turn treat our customers well and provide a good service.”

Rolling out a four-day working week policy

When she was appointed to her current role in January, one of Emilius’s first areas of focus was on raising the idea of the four-day working work – which she had seen getting a lot of attention in the news. Knowing that it was something that insurance didn’t seem to be doing, she said, she realised that the opportunity was there to really do something different, particularly in light of how Freedom had already capitalised on COVID’s lesson in the need for flexibility to roll out remote working to all its people.

“People have the option to work from wherever they want, as long as they’re doing the job and hitting their KPIs,” she said. “So, off the back of that approach, the four-day working week was discussed with the exec team. It took us about five-to-six months to pull it all together because we needed to make sure we had the right foundations in place in terms of KPIs and the structure to ensure a successful launch.

We launched our six-month pilot scheme on July 1. Of course, some people were sceptical and said they couldn’t see it working in the insurance space. But I’m pleased to say it has been more of a success than any of us could have imagined.”

The key results of the four-day working week trial

Outlining some of the key outcomes of the trial, Emilius revealed that Freedom has seen:

  • Staff turnover drop from 31% to 6% since the trial was implemented
  • Productivity increase 12.4% in ops areas – including increased performance in customer service areas
  • An uptake of 80% of the four-day working week option by the Freedom workforce – up 5% since its inception
  • 51 new starters in the last quarter – with feedback indicating that the four-day working week and other flexible work arrangements were key factors behind their choice of Freedom over other insurance businesses.

Emilius noted that hearing the feedback from new starters has been fantastic but it has also been great to hear the responses from the current team – and to hear how their work-life balance has changed since the trial was implemented. People have more time to be creative now, she said, and it’s encouraging them to spend more time doing the things they love with the people they love. Freedom’s culture is very much human-led and at the core of this initiative has been a simple question – “how do we make our employees’ lives better?”

“Obviously, this kind of push has got to be a two-way street because it has to work for the organisation as well,” she said. “But it’s something we were really passionate about making work and it has [paid dividends]. Our customer service has seen an uptick of 12.4%, and all the back-office staff and support staff have [renewed] strategic focus because they’ve still got the same amount of work to do, just in a shorter period of time.

“They know they’ve still got to hit the KPIs and still get the work done. But this is just giving them better focus on that work while offering them a work-life balance – and everybody who has taken this up has said they would never want to go back now to a five-day working week.”

Moving to a four-day working week, permanently

With the blueprint for success so clearly laid out during the trial, it is with confidence that the business is moving to enact a four-day working week permanently. Freedom is currently creating the correct policy to go around that, she said, and it will of course be monitored on an ongoing basis but, from January, it will be a permanent fixture. Looking back on the trial, Emilius highlighted what made it really work is the buy-in from Freedom’s team.

“I think the culture as a whole in Freedom is fabulous,” she said. “And people have really bought into this and made it something special. I can’t see the four-day working week ever not working for us because people have really bought into this journey, everybody’s been with us on it and it’s very collaborative. It’s not a one-way street where all our employees love working with us, we love them working with us too.”

Recommendations for firms considering a four-day working week

In terms of recommendations, Emilius emphasised the importance of a flexible approach when rolling out such an initiative. The majority of Freedom’s sales team, for instance, didn’t take up this opportunity because they didn’t want to miss out on a day when they could be contacting prospects but they still have the option to opt-in if they want to at any point.

In addition, she recommended getting the right structures in place as early on as possible to make sure that somebody from the right team is always available if required. In accordance with this, she said, when Freedom moves the four-day working week to a permanent basis in January, its schedule will run on a rotational basis. This will ensure somebody from each department is available when necessary – because the insurance sector doesn’t shut down on a Thursday evening.

Getting the right plan in place is critical, she said, but her other key recommendation is to “just go for it.” If implemented on a trial basis, if it doesn’t work out for a company, they can always reverse it but, from her experience, if the right plans and structures are in place and you have the right culture of self-empowerment within your organisation, then you’re on a good footing for success.

“I don’t see any downside,” she said. “And the news in the press [recently] about the success of four-day working week trials and how a lot of firms have looked to permanently adapt to this lets me know that we’re very aligned. Everybody that has done this seems to have had massive benefits. And bringing new talent to your door is massive, particularly for us as we’re on a growth trajectory over the next three-to-five years.

“So, it has been really important for us to find that offering that sets us apart and gives us that competitive edge. And I think we’ve found it and I think it’s a real gem.”