The four-day working week (4DWW) movement is taking workplace culture by storm. From New Zealand to New Jersey, in the aftermath of pandemic disruptions an industry-led effort has blossomed to trim a day off the working week, nourish work-life balance and support employees to prioritise their mental and physical health.

Each organisation has its own path to adopting the 4DWW model. Among national trials and multi-company support groups, the journey has unique twists and turns depending on a business’ individual circumstances. However, an open culture and trust within the organisation are vital for this new model to work long-term. ElectraLink learned this through an exciting, unifying journey to embrace change in our own ways of working.

#4DWW What a 4DWW means at ElectraLink

In June 2023, ElectraLink officially adopted the 4DWW on a 100-80-100 model – 100 percent of the remuneration for 80 percent of the time for 100 percent productivity. Most employees are working Monday to Thursday, with employees in customer support teams on time-bound service level agreements working on rotas to ensure five-day availability. Employees also understand that, from time to time, they may be required to work additional hours if urgent or external engagements emerge. (However, this is something most people have encountered throughout their careers, regardless of contracted hours.)

To formalise the arrangement, ElectraLink employees signed a one-year agreement for new terms around annual leave, lieu time and other mechanics. This opt-in route ensures full transparency of employees’ benefits during the 4DWW period and ensures an eyes-open approach to the company’s discretion to not extend the 4DWW if serious circumstances were to require a return to a five-day week.

A Step or a Leap?

Unsurprisingly, ElectraLink is no stranger to flexible ways of working as it operated a hybrid working model long before the pandemic for over half a decade. Employees are accustomed to a digital-first culture of communication and respect for colleagues’ workload and schedules. This practice was extremely helpful to prepare ElectraLink for a shorter work week because planning ahead and scheduling transparency were already well-rehearsed.

That doesn’t mean it was an effortless process. It took many months of planning, testing and stakeholder management to prepare ElectraLink for the 4DWW ‘workstyle’.

Employee communication and engagement is integral for maintaining reciprocal trust in a business between all members from senior managers to new recruits. ElectraLink runs regular employee feedback surveys to measure areas of success, identify room for improvement, and collect suggestions for new initiatives. The Senior Management Team (SMT) then considers the quantitative and qualitative data and sets improvement actions that meet employee needs.

In early 2022, many employee survey responses suggested the 4DWW as a new benefit to introduce after news of a national trial began spreading. With the SMT’s agreement, ElectraLink’s Employee Forum started planning what a 4DWW  would look like and presented a business case for its consideration.

Having missed the opportunity to sign up to the national trial, the SMT and employees geared up for an independent 4DWW pilot in the summer of 2022. This pilot aimed to investigate whether ElectraLink could manage customer and business requirements and expectations in a shorter week without causing employees extra stress or disruption. During this time, employees responded to weekly surveys where they could indicate the level of pressure they were feeling, challenges and concerns, as well as share the positive benefits of having an extra day each week to spend on whatever matters most to them.

After several months, the survey data revealed that employees were feeling more relaxed, motivated, and productive. Colleagues were able to dedicate time to their health, hobbies, and caring responsibilities. Some concerns cropped up, but these addressed and soon allayed through company-wide solution sharing and communication of expectations and sharing of processes and best practice available to increase efficiency.

Following the settling of the initial pilots’ teething problems and the impressively positive feedback, a second pilot was initiated from autumn to Christmas 2022. With the knowledge that colleagues could handle all customer requests and agreements in hand, this pilot sought to organically surface more specific challenges and concerns to address before permanent adoption. Employees proved the efficacy of a 4DWW by sealing off personal objectives and targets while keeping customers happy and setting their objectives for the following year.

Five-day weeks returned for the first few months of 2023 while the final considerations, terms and arrangements were discussed for full 4DWW adoption. After a soft launch in April and May, coinciding with many bank holidays, ElectraLink officially adopted the 4DWW in time with the national rollout organised by the 4 Day Week campaign.

What’s the big idea?

According to Amelia Heatley, ElectraLink’s Director of Diversity and Engagement, there are three key reasons why ElectraLink adopted the 4DWW model:

1. Employee wellbeing:

Research has shown the wellbeing benefits of a shorter week. For example, a study from Henley Business School showed that 78 percent of businesses on a 4DWW reported that employees felt less stressed at work. And a Cambridge University study showed that over 40 percent of employees on a 4DWW experienced improved mental health, according to Time Magazine. Employees use their extra day for family care, exercise, hobbies, exploring the great outdoors and rest, and return to work on Monday better able to manage their busy workdays. All of this aligned with the internal research from the pilots.

2. Be a best-in-class employer:

Talent acquisition and retention are tough in the UK after the pandemic. For years, the Great Resignation, Brexit-related skills shortages and inflation have been among many once-in-a-generation shocks that has led to a tight skills market. Many large multinationals hiring in the UK’s exceptional talent pool can offer phenomenal salaries and perks which other organisations cannot. A trusting, nurturing culture can be the ace up a smaller company’s sleeve, providing support, motivation and a superior work-life balance.

The 4DWW, and more time, proves to prospective and existing employees that the organisation trusts them to deliver outcomes. It also gives ElectraLink distinct credentials to share wisdom and experiences with other companies looking to set themselves apart in the jobs market.

Some employees have also been using the time to learn new skills and study to further their careers – in and of itself a significant personal and business benefit.

3. Employees asked, ElectraLink answered:

An employer that listens and supports employees sets itself up for success. ElectraLink is an organisation of innovative thinkers and problem-solvers, and managers know that giving employees the conditions they need to work will lead to high productivity and positive outcomes. So rather than dismissing employee requests for a 4DWW, the SMT endeavoured to try it. And it worked superbly. Adopting the 4DWW has proved yet again that acting on employee feedback and requests has real, measurable benefits. Happy and motivated employees mean great outcomes for our customers, which is great for business.

With adopting the 4DWW based on these three reasons, we are confident that prospective and existing ElectraLink employees will remain happy, committed, and productive, and that our metrics to determine this will continue to deliver great results.

The impact of a 4DWW at ElectraLink

ElectraLink is data-first and recognises the value of data in making reasonable, informed decisions –this mindset is being applied to monitor the success of the 4DWW. Several metrics for other areas of the business have pertinence here, as they are either KPIs for business outcomes or integral to the reasons why the 4DWW was brought in.

Meeting the annual budget is naturally the most important metric as ElectraLink has an obligation to deliver energy market services, maintain shareholder confidence in its business plans, and remain able to pay the bills. Financial results from 2022 exceeded expectations in the midst of 4DWW pilot phases and economic uncertainty, indicating the 4DWW had no negative impact on financial performance.

HR metrics such as time to hire and retention rate stand in for assessing how prospective and existing employees perceive and experience a shorter work week.

According to Eira Huckstep, ElectraLink’s Head of HR: “Average time to hire has reduced from 75 days per vacancy to 32 days per vacancy as of mid-2023, proving the higher value candidates place on the 4DWW when deciding between job offers. This is coupled with anecdotal evidence of the 4DWW perk resulting in fewer candidates engaging in extended salary negotiation.

“Employee attrition has also declined since the 4DWW was introduced. ElectraLink’s employee turnover rate has plunged from 29 percent to around nine percent. Furthermore, after the two pilot phases proved the SMT’s commitment to continuing a market-leading work-life balance, an anonymous employee feedback survey earned ElectraLink an ‘outstanding to work for’ accreditation from Best Companies. This two-stars-out-of-three accolade is proof that employees are delighted with the move to a 4DWW – the most important indicator of the model’s success.”

Finally, ElectraLink is in the process of working with the University of Cambridge and Boston College to run anonymous employee surveys on the 4DWW and how it affects different areas of employees’ lives. The results of these surveys will provide even more data to inform the understanding of this new working model’s success.

What’s next?

ElectraLink intends to be a market leader in our approach to workplace culture and employee engagement. The SMT hopes to set the standard for other organisations which can learn from ElectraLink’s experiments and trials and incorporate the positive elements into their own cultures. This is why ElectraLink is taking opportunities to share its story and support other companies with their own 4DWW journey which will inevitably be unique to ElectraLink’s.

Taking an alternative approach to a century-old standard does not mean an eternal commitment. ElectraLink will continue to review and consider all the benefits and detractions that our new way of working uncovers. In consultation with senior stakeholders and employees, and reflecting on trends in the global labour market, ElectraLink has taken a stance to retain flexibility around its 4DWW.

However, if employees remain happy and productive, and the data from success measures proves its efficacy, the trust shared between senior managers and their reports will be vindicated and a shorter work week will prevail at ElectraLink.