4-day week and pioneering ideas at Virgin Money


The job has changed tremendously over the decades I’ve been in the workforce, and I’m sure 20 years from now it will be unrecognizable from what it is today.

The concept of “work for life” of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations is over, and the boundaries between activities that would be considered skilled or unskilled, professional or craft, and the roles of entrepreneur, self-employed or of employee – are all becoming more and more indistinct. The average American millennial worker is three times more likely to have changed jobs in the past year than an older generation worker. Research also shows that they are less likely to feel a bond of loyalty or attachment to the organizations that currently employ them and more likely to feel “disengaged” from their employers, prompting them to seek new opportunities.

Add to this trends such as the “big quit” – a phenomenon whereby one in five workers are likely to leave their current employer in the next 12 months – and it is clear that organizations are facing challenges like never before. when it comes to retaining key people and talent. .

Reactions and responses to these changing times have been mixed. We’ve seen banking CEOs – as well as senior government officials – issue stark warnings that embracing innovative ideas like working from home risks damaging both business metrics and the career prospects of those who subscribe to it.

When it comes from those at the top of the workforce, it’s easy to think it might be due to an unwillingness to give up the day-to-day or minute-to-minute control a boss has over his employees’ time when everything everyone is forced to be in the office during business hours.

Are we really more productive working from home? Studies on the matter have had mixed results – but what’s clear is that we’re happier and more satisfied when we have a choice.

As an example of a company taking a proactive approach to managing the changing labor landscape, let’s take a look at Virgin Money. Earlier this year, they launched a program called A Life More Virgin, which they describe as “a values-driven approach to flexible working”.

All of its employees — including front-line, customer-facing employees — have the option to work remotely at least some of the time. This includes adopting a ‘no whereabouts’ policy when it comes to hiring, which means staff have more discretion over when and where they work. The company gives the example of a store employee who travels on weekends to spend time with his child who lives apart. The employee was able to request to work at the store closest to his child on Fridays, meaning he spent less time traveling after work to see the child.

The company formulated the policy change following a detailed investigation that involved soliciting input from its entire workforce, as well as 3,000 members of the public. This bottom-up methodology is refreshing to see in a world where we are accustomed to seeing initiatives designed by leaders and the leadership suite based largely on their own ideas of what is good for the whole workforce. work.

At Virgin Money, this has involved changing the infrastructure of its offices, branches and facilities – with a number of commercial properties closed and others converted into co-working spaces. These have been redesigned to accommodate new ways of working, including an increasingly remote workforce that needs central facilities rather than permanent workspaces.

Another aspect of the initiative is to offer workers the opportunity to take up to five “wellness days” over the course of a year. This practice of encouraging people to take better control of the division of their professional and non-professional life is reflected in a larger experience, the four-day week.

Currently this is being tested in a number of countries including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. There, 60 companies are expected to adopt the new schedule between June and December this year. Basically, the trial is treated as a science experiment, conducted in conjunction with Cambridge and Oxford universities and Boston College. Workers who participate will receive the same amount of money as when they worked a five-day week and will not be required to work more hours during the four days they are on the job. During the trial, the effects on productivity, as well as employee satisfaction and happiness, will be measured empirically. The goal is to finally answer some of the questions businesses and governments have been asking since the Covid-19 pandemic left us wondering if there isn’t a better way to do things.

Reducing the number of hours employees spend at work – whether in the office or working remotely – has many potential benefits – from improving personal well-being to preventing burnout to encouraging the development of “soft” skill sets that can best be learned in social and recreational situations.

It could also potentially allow people to begin the process of reconnecting with their local environment – ​​the neighborhoods, towns or suburbs where they live – rather than simply treating them as a place where they sleep. This could have the effect of revitalizing local economies and encouraging us to devote more time to local democracy and governance.

Undoubtedly, this approach also has its challenges. Concerns have been raised that flexible working hours sometimes make us feel more pressured into working unsociable hours. It would certainly be a mistake for employers to think that staff who no longer have to commute to the office should somehow “repay” this benefit by making themselves available at any time of the day or night. Replacing a desk-bound existence with an “always on” form of activity is unlikely to improve anyone’s work/life balance in the long run.

Studies are also underway on the mental health implications of many of today’s new work practices – such as working from home – which are likely to differ significantly depending on people’s individual circumstances.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that change is not only needed – and long overdue – but also has the potential to bring a host of benefits. Realization of the benefits will depend on its correct management and implementation with an understanding of what is hoped to be achieved, as well as clear communication on what is expected of both the workforce and the organizations that employ them.

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