Why we’re swapping the four-day week for the nine-day fortnight
If you could give your employees better work-life balance, help them focus on work while in the office, and give them time to manage life and home commitments, you would, wouldn’t you?
That is what’s being offered by proponents of the four-day working week, a proposal that has found new momentum following the launch of a study by academics at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Boston College in the US.
But will it deliver on its promises?
The five-days-on / two-days-off labour pattern has existed since before the Second World War, yet it has never been more open to challenge. Advocates point to the mental health and societal benefits when workers are freed to spend more time with their families and to take care of themselves.
In fact, some campaigners have gone as far as challenging the legitimacy of the seven-day week itself. Unlike a day (one full turn of the Earth) or a year (one revolution of our planet around its star), the seven-day week is entirely man-made. Indeed, a week was 10 days in Ancient Egypt and eight in Roman times.
Our journey at Cloud9 Insight towards the four-day working week began – and very quickly took a sharp turn – when we conducted a survey of our employees earlier this year. To our surprise, 60% of our colleagues expressed an interest in compressing their hours into a four-day week so they could spend more time with their families.
I spent an entire evening pondering how we could make this work but couldn’t shake the concern that a four-day-week could lead to the opposite of the intended outcome. If staff were working much longer hours on work days, they would have less time, not more, to have dinner with their partners or to put their children to bed in the evening.
So – back to that sharp turn – we came up with what you might call a ‘Third Way’: the nine-day fortnight.
Under this scheme, employees will have every other Friday off, while only being asked to add 30 minutes to the other nine working days in every fortnight.
Crucially, their pay will not be affected.
Therefore, the net loss to the business will be three hours per person per fortnight, though I don’t view it as a loss at all. Procrastination is a significant issue in any business and we believe the nine-day fortnight will lead to more highly-motivated employees making more effective use of their time, easily making up for the loss of those three hours.
We’re complementing this with flexible hours so colleagues will be required to work between 10am and 4pm (five hours when you subtract an hour for lunch) and can decide for themselves when they complete the other two-and-a-half hours of the working day.
My other knotty thought that evening, as I puzzled over how to make all this work, was that simply giving my team time off may not, alone, provide a better work-life balance. I reasoned that there were other causes of stress in the workplace: outdated processes, lack of joined up working between departments, poor internal communication, and misfiring technology failing to support employees to do their jobs well and to understand what is working and what is not.
These issues arise in workplaces because employees so often lack time to attend to the strategic projects that help businesses grow out of them.
With this in mind, I decided to trial a twist to the nine-day fortnight so that the working Friday becomes a ‘Strategic, Innovation, Learning, Charity and Community work’ day, or SILCC (pronounced silk) Day. To the outside world, this effectively makes us a four-day-per-week business because we will pause day-to-day tasks on that working Friday, save for customer support. Instead, we will use it to maximise team working, develop entrepreneurial thinking and accelerate career progression.
As a parent of three children, including an eight-year-old, I can see that it’s important not just for employees but their families that they have time and space to catch up on the things that really matter – finding a new home, sports, hobbies and other pursuits that give meaning and purpose to their lives.
So we’re going to try and make the nine-day fortnight work. We’re starting with a trial and honest feedback will be key. But we’re going into it knowing that the initiative is aligned with Cloud9 Insight’s values. In other words, it seems like a no-brainer.
We are joining up with a research group spearheaded by the University of Sussex and we hope to connect with other like-minded companies to share ideas on this new way of working. I’d love to share experiences and tips to make this new way of working a great success.
About Carlene Jackson
Carlene Jackson is the CEO of Brighton-based digital transformation consultancy Cloud9 Insight, which she founded in 2010 and has 40 staff. It is a Microsoft Gold Partner that has provided more than 800 UK businesses with cloud-based CRM software systems.
Carlene has over 25 years working in the tech and software industry. She is an active speaker on D&I topics and advises Parliament on apprenticeships and training. A serial entrepreneur, Carlene established her first business aged 17.