In June this year, more than 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies began working a four-day week (4DW) with no loss of pay as part of a national pilot. Over the course of six months, researchers are measuring the impact of this new working pattern on productivity, employee satisfaction, stress and burnout. They will also examine whether introducing a 4-DW creates positive effects on the environment and gender equality in the workplace.
Gaining a competitive edge
With work changed irreversibly by the pandemic and companies seeking novel ways to attract and retain scarce talent, many are implementing measures that boost the quality of life as a way of gaining a competitive edge. But the potential benefits of the 4DW are much more wide-ranging, with good outcomes likely for employees, business performance and the climate.
CEOs will need to see that both revenue and staff happiness have been maintained for the 4DW to be viewed as a success
Highgate IT Solutions began its own 4DW trial almost six months ago. Sales Director, Bob Sahota explained why they took this step: “Having just come off the back of a few difficult years with the pandemic, it became evident that as human beings ‘time’ was our most valuable non-renewable resource and if we could find a way to give our employees some of that precious time back, it will go a long way in supporting their work/life balance, mental health and overall wellbeing.”
Other companies will have similar ambitions when implementing new ways of working such as the 4DW, but at the very least, CEOs will need to see that both revenue and staff happiness have been maintained for the 4DW to be viewed as a success.
Measuring the impact of the four-day week
Given the high stakes involved in making any major change, companies need to know whether this new way of working is achieving the outcomes they wish for. Stuart Marginson, Founder and MD at Highgate IT Solutions knew that a systematic evaluation would be the most effective way to gain objective insights into the employee experience of the 4DW.
In commissioning an independent company to conduct this evaluation, Stuart chose to take a gold standard approach: “We felt a change of this magnitude needed external professional eyes on our methods and process, to ensure our results were accurately and independently assessed”.
For companies who do not have the time or relevant in-house expertise, using the services of an outside agency makes sense. Taking this step also means the evaluation is completely impartial, which is likely to increase engagement rates.
However, because the information produced by a formal evaluation is so useful, creating one in-house is certainly better than not evaluating at all. A well-designed (and timed) evaluation will provide a benchmark against which to measure the impact of the 4DW over time and will directly inform decisions about adaptations and future direction. As Bob Sahota highlights, the findings of a robust evaluation can also be of value to ‘the wider industry and beyond’.
Keeping staff at the centre of your focus is crucial for getting the best from any new initiative or evaluation
Designing your trial 4DW evaluation
The best evaluations are planned alongside the initiative or project they seek to assess and are designed in line with clearly defined goals or outcomes. Start by setting out what impacts you are looking to measure. Are you wanting to see an increase in job satisfaction or employee engagement? Is it productivity or revenue that you are most interested in? Or are you expecting that employee wellbeing or retention will improve?
Having already put a range of measures in place to enhance employee experience, Stuart Marginson had a clear ambition that introducing a 4DW would “reduce stress and the risk of burnout within the team, encouraging an environment of working smarter not harder.”
Being clear and specific about your expected or hoped-for outcomes will help you to select data collection methods that are fit for purpose. For example, the impact on revenue can be monitored through existing sales measures, whereas a different method will be needed to assess levels of job satisfaction.
Exploring the 4DW methodology
If you are interested in whether, say, employee wellbeing has changed during the course of your trial, it’s important to get a baseline measure of wellbeing immediately prior to trial launch.
Using a standardised questionnaire such as the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, will ensure statistical reliability and validity and also that the data produced is robust. Repeating the measure at the close of your trial, or after a period of six to twelve months, will provide pre and post-data showing what changes in wellbeing have occurred throughout the trial.
To assess factors associated with employee experience, you might want to design a set of survey questions that glean both qualitative and quantitative types of data—using questions that require respondents to select one option on a numerical scale (e.g. where 1= Disagree and 5=Agree) produces useful qualitative data that requires only simple calculations to analyse and can be presented in the form of a bar chart for ease of understanding.
These types of questions are useful for providing a general overview (e.g. 83% of employees agree that they are happy at work) and are easily repeated for comparison at a later date. However, they are not particularly sensitive to nuance or helpful for understanding individual experiences.
Open-ended questions requiring a more verbatim response (e.g. ‘In what ways has working a 4DW affected your work/life balance?’) are better at picking up the subtleties and often give more meaningful insights. However, the qualitative data they produce is trickier to analyse and interpret.
What to keep in mind when developing a 4DW evaluation
Keeping staff at the centre of your focus is crucial for getting the best from any new initiative or evaluation. As Stuart Marginson notes: “Change in any form, is ultimately upheaval for people, no matter how positive an impact we believe it will have for our wellbeing long term.”
Share the results with your staff and ensure that you communicate what actions you are taking based on the findings
When conducting an evaluation that requires staff input, remember that engagement is everything. Make sure you give good advance notice, communicating to your people the rationale for the evaluation and why their input is so valuable.
Make it quick and easy to complete research conducted by Survey Monkey shows that surveys of more than 30 questions or that take longer than eight minutes to complete risk increasing rates of abandonment. Share the results with your staff and ensure that you communicate what actions you are taking based on the findings.
It’s also important to note that conducting a well-designed evaluation is not a replacement for eliciting anecdotal feedback through formal meetings or casual conversations. All this is valid information that can contribute usefully to your emerging understanding of impact.