I loved “Only Fools and Horses”. It was truly one of the very best examples of British comedy, and for all sorts of reason. One of the most memorable and funniest elements was Del Boy’s catchphases, of which there were a few (including some very poor attempts at French!). There is two in particular that are relevant to what I want to discuss – Work / Life balance. Those are “he who dares … wins”*, and “everyone’s a winner”.
*(I’m well aware of the gender pronoun use – it is a quote from another time and I’ll forgive Del Boy, just this once).
As we emerge from a global pandemic many of us have been considering what should come next. There is no doubt that we have been through something that has changed us, changed our perspective on life, and how we want to live it. This will be different for each of us. Many of us who have been working largely from home will have found a work / life balance that we never thought possible. It is one of the silver linings to an awful situation.
I read an article recently that really got me thinking – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57724779. This long term study in Iceland into a 4 day working week was clearly a huge success. The Scandinavian countries regularly poll at the top of the list of the World’s happiest countries. I think Iceland is about to get a whole lot happier! Let’s be honest, we could all do with being happier.
The idea that you can be as productive in 4 days as 5 is not new. Microsoft in Japan famously trialled a 4 day week and found that productivity jumped by 40%. It was not the 4 day week alone that achieved this remarkable figure. Measures such as limiting meetings to only 30 mins forced people to be productive in that time, and encouraging remote communication too which will be very familiar to us all now. You can read more at https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-4-day-work-week-boosts-productivity-2019-11?r=US&IR=T.
From a recruitment perspective, I speak to candidates every day and see huge change in expectation. This will ultimately mean movement if employers don’t meet this head on. Employers who expect a return to the daily grind in the office can expect an exodus. There is an acute shortage of skilled IT people. If you don’t give your people what they want, another employer will be very glad to have them.
I have worked for many years in the IT Recruitment market with a significant focus on Software Engineering. A number of forward-thinking tech companies had already adopted a 4 day week pre-Covid. Indeed, some have always worked that way. I would be most interested to find out how they have made this work. There is a study on attraction, retention, productivity and general happiness there waiting to be done and I think Computer Science and Social Sciences could both tackle it in their own way.
I have been very fortunate to be fully set up to work from home. Much as I’m looking forward to seeing my colleagues from time to time, the idea of the daily commute and 9.00 to 5.00 in the office feels like an imposition! Which brings me to the obvious questions – what do I want out of life, and what do I want out of work, and what is expected of me? And most important of all, is there a conflict in the answer to these questions?
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. The answer for each of us may be different. Some of the team can’t wait to be back in the office full time. Others, not so much. The 4 day week may appeal to some and not to others. It is clear the answer is not only in the number of days we work, but how we work and the tools we use. The Microsoft case study clearly demonstrated that it is a range of measures that led to success.
So, for all you employers, what does success look like for you, and how can you achieve it? He (or she) who dares … wins, if you do it right. By wins, I mean wins the battle of retention and attraction. It is most certainly a battle, and you go to war with a happy and productive workforce to support you. You can achieve anything with the right people.
How can we ensure success? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Happy and motivated people, fully supported by robust and efficient tools and practices. If we get it right, “everyone’s a winner”.