Making a success of the four-day week at Atom Bank

The four-day week is a popular story in the news but its success depends on employers adapting it to their needs, as Atom Bank has discovered.

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Atom Bank is a digital-only bank and one of the upcoming challengers in the fintech sector. It is no surprise then that it is leading in offering new ways of working to give employees a better work life balance; the Holy Grail for parents.

The bank began a four-day week trial in September 2021 and almost three years on it is still operating on that basis, with good results all round. The decision was partly prompted by the Covid experience; a recognition that the world of work had changed and that people wanted more than the more traditional ways of working. In particular workers wanted a better work life balance. The four-day week pilot was also a chance to make Atom Bank more attractive and to make it stand out as an employer against competitors in the fintech world. It gave employees more time and the ability to properly switch off. The Bank’s CEO Mark Mullen had researched the four-day week, could see the benefits and was a big advocate of the trial. As Katie Pace, People Operations Lead explains: “It was about providing mutual benefits for the bank and its people”.

Offering flexibility

A few years on, the four-day week has become business as usual. While some employees use the extra time to run marathons and the like, for many it is just about having a bit more time to do household chores and relax. Data on the approach is very favourable and seasonal absence and long term sickness has dropped to a quarter of its previous level. Attrition rates are down and the company’s engagement score continues to rise, and has gone up 3% in the last year. Employees are very enthusiastic about the wellness benefits.

As a regulated bank the company is operational five days a week and cannot just shut down on a Friday, so it has had to work out its own way to make the four-day week work. The customer support team works seven days a week, with shifts now shorter than they were before and different patterns for rest periods. The rest of the bank functions five days a week, but the hours are split between team members, many of whom work four days. Monday to Thursday is the preferred working pattern, but 30% of the workforce work Tuesday to Friday. Employees haven’t dropped a full day; rather they have added an hour to their other working days in order to maintain productivity. Full time employees have reduced to a 34-hour week. All the metrics show that workers are either maintaining a steady performance or improving.

How does it work?

Pace says that the bank has managed to make the four-day week work through making small efficiencies, such as people adding their working hours and holidays into their email signatures and cutting back on meeting times. For operational roles good handover notes are shared between colleagues to ensure that deadlines are met. Other changes include calculating annual leave based on hours rather than days, meaning people can take a couple of hours out for something like a school event and use annual leave for that rather than needing to take a whole afternoon off work.  “It has been a learning curve,” says Pace, “but people were motivated to make it work.”

Pace also suggests that being a smaller bank – they had 450 staff when they started the pilot and now have 540 – it has been easier for Atom to experiment and adapt. She recognises that it might be a bit harder for bigger legacy banks to enact the same model and admits that the four-day week doesn’t work for all employees; for instance, parents with young children might not be able to do longer days. However the model is not forced on all employees and they are free to do shorter hours over five days if they prefer.

Besides employees’ willingness to make it work, one of the main reasons that there was little opposition to the model may be because Atom Bank made sure to communicate regularly about what they were doing and seek feedback. They held monthly company-wide updates about the metrics in an effort to bring everyone along and they also took on board employee feedback. When asked if there was any push back from customers, Pace says that most of the metrics which are measured relate to customer service and these show no detrimental impact so far. The bank has a five star rating on Trust Pilot.

The changes are now permanent and available to all colleagues. They stand alongside the bank’s other flexible working policies, such as hybrid working. When asked about some policymakers’ opposition to the four-day week, Pace responds: “I understand resistance to something that is completely new, but I would not be surprised if it becomes more common in the future. It’s all about what people want out of work now.”

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