As we head into the May day bank holiday, how would you fancy a three-day weekend every week?
After a nearly year-long experiment, borne out of our operational response to COVID-19 last year, our board of trustees agreed this week that full-time DSC staff will now work their hours over four days, rather than five, giving everybody a three day weekend every week.
We’d been talking about adding more flexibility into our working patterns for over a year before the pandemic hit, and finding ways to use them to better support staff wellbeing was already on our radar. So when we found ourselves operating as a small skeleton crew trying to keep things going while most of our staff were furloughed, we introduced a four day week to make sure people were getting regular breaks from the unprecedented pressures of operating in a pandemic.
And it worked so well we carried on with it, and have just established it as the norm for all full-time staff. So how did we do it?
We started by making some simple decisions. Our goal was to make sure people got a long break over the weekend, and came back rested and recharged every week, so we decided everyone would work either Monday-Thursday, or Tuesday-Friday. That way everyone’s working week would be four consecutive days, and everyone’s weekend would be three consecutive days. Most importantly this we could keep supporting our beneficiaries throughout the week, albeit with a reduced staff team on Mondays and Fridays.
With a little consultation on individual preferences, we split our staff team into two: Friday Crew (who work Tuesday-Friday) and Monday Crew (who work Monday-Thursday). We worked in as much balance as we could so that we had at least someone from each team available on a Friday or a Monday, and made sure all of our core communications, team meetings etc. were shifted to Tuesday-Thursday when everyone was around.
Now there were some teething troubles as you would expect. For a while, nobody knew who was in on what days, although we quickly got the hang of it! We had to work out what to do with bank holidays, which were usually on a Monday when Friday Crew were already off. To get around that we decided that Friday Crew get a four day weekend Saturday-Tuesday, Monday Crew get Friday-Monday.
Revising our leave process involved some mathematical gymnastics to make sure it worked properly and nobody was losing out, and organising cover for leave has been tricky at times, especially with post-furlough leave mounting up a bit. But we’ve worked through most of the challenges, and the benefits have so far outweighed them massively.
In our recent staff wellbeing survey we asked about how the four day week was going for people, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive, with comments like:
“Having an extra day at the weekend makes so much difference to overall happiness and motivation. I feel much more rested and ready for the week and can get more work done.”
“4 day work week works better. It is nice to have the extra day with family and to take care of household needs. I return to work feeling more refreshed and ready to take on the work week.”
“More consecutive rest days promoted mental wellbeing; there also seemed to be more time and headspace to deal with tasks needed in daily life and running a home (kids, cleaning, bills, maintenance, DIY, and physical exercise).”
“Three days off gives much more time to relax and have a break from work. It means you can complete your to do list and have lots of time to have fun and chillout too, I’m a big fan”!
“The 4 day working week is great. It’s really helped just clear and manage my mental wellbeing during the pandemic.”
“The longer days off contributed immensely to my feeling of well being”
So should you look at doing something similar?
There are a few things that we do at DSC that have made making such a big change possible.
Firstly, we’re really open with our staff. We talked to them collectively, in teams and in 121s throughout the trial period, dealing with individual and team challenges that arose as a result of the different working patterns. We’ve talked about it a lot, and we’ve made tweaks and changes along the way to make it work.
Secondly, alongside this decision we’ve also massively upped our whole-organisation and team communication. This has been in response to how we’ve all been working remotely, and going that extra mile with our staff to make sure they feel as big a part of their teams and the wider organisation, despite not being in the same offices together. We have daily check-ins for the whole organisation, and daily check-outs in teams, so there are loads of opportunities to talk formally and informally about how things are going.
And thirdly, we have a thing at DSC where no decision is sacred. This is working for us now, and we’ll keep doing it as long as it does, but we’ll keep reviewing it and making changes as we go along as new challenges arise.
Working longer hours on working days may present some issues once staff are physically back in the office – even if that’s likely to only be occasionally for the foreseeable future. And although we’ve managed leave and people covering for each other so far, we’ve not gotten to either the school summer holidays or (optimistically) the post-pandemic holiday rush once we’re all allowed to get away again.
But so far it’s working great, our staff are happier and more productive, and it’s been one of the most positive outcomes of our organisational response to how we’ve been forced to work over the last year.