Digital bank adopts 4-day week, as employee burnout spirals

By Kate Birch
London digital bank Atom is the latest and largest UK firm to move to a four-day working week, as research reveals eight in 10 UK workers have job burnout

A London bank has adopted a four-day working week for its 430 employees without cutting pay. Atom Bank, one of the UK’s first digital challenger banks, has reduced the weekly hours of its staff from 37.5 hours to 34 and is encouraging staff to take either Monday or Friday off.

This marks the largest firm in the UK to introduce a four-day working week to date and follows a wave of organisations, both nationally and internationally, that have experimented with, or committed to four-day working weeks in recent months.

Surge in employees experiencing burnout

Atom Bank’s own commitment to its employees of a three-day weekend arrives as new research reveals that more than three-quarters (79%) of UK workers have experienced burnout, with 35% reporting high or extreme levels. The research from Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of talent report reveals that the top three catalysts for this were increased workloads, mental health challenges and pressure to meet deadlines. 

As a consequence, one in five say they are seeking a new job, with another 39% saying they would consider leaving for the right opportunity. And more than a third of those looking for new employment say they want benefits with 35% seeking more flexibility, such as flexible hours remote work or a four-day working week.

And businesses are not just recognising this, many witnessing their own staff experiencing burnout or facing mental health difficulties, but responding with flexible work practices, enhanced benefits, and increasingly the offer of four-day working weeks, in a bid to battle burnout and ultimately to retain talent.

This is exactly the case for Atom Bank’s CEO Mark Mullen, who has brought in its new policy to address employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, provide a healthier work-life balance, and improve productivity.

“A four-day week will provide our employees with more opportunities to pursue their passions, spend time with their families, and build a healthier work/life balance,” says Mullen. “We firmly believe that this will prove beneficial for our employees’ wellbeing and happiness and that it will have an equally positive impact on business productivity and customer experience.

Employer benefits – higher productivity and happier employees

While the benefits of a four-day working week for employees are obvious, the perks for business are less obvious, which is why so many organisations have introduced pilot schemes, to test the workability of such a policy and see if – as has been cited by various studies – employee productivity levels do improve.

Researchers in Iceland found that a four-day work week, without a pay cut, improved workers’ wellbeing and productivity. And in a study published by UK think tank Autonomy, researchers tracked 2,500 employees who reduced their work week from 40 hours to 35 and found that “worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance”.

A host of companies globally have further found productivity increase from undertaking trials. The first firm in Spain to implement a four-day working week in 2020, Software Delsol witnessed a reduction in absenteeism, an increase in productivity and happier workers. While in Asia, Microsoft Japan has also experimented with a four-day week – this resulted in happier workers and 40% greater efficiency.

Similar effects are being seen in the UK. Following the successful trial of a four-and-a-half day week in 2020, where the work-life balance of staff was found to be improved, innovation management platform Edison365 has now committed to moving to a four-day 32-hour working week for its 30 employees with a three-month pilot. Similarly, after recently trialling a four-day work week, Glasgow-based F&B packaging supplier UPAC Group found no drop in productivity and a decrease in stress levels, and as a result is now implementing its new policy.

In fact, Scotland is moving fast on the four-day week initiative, with the government currently designing a pilot programme that it is set to trial across a number of office-based businesses across the country.

Attracting and retaining talent priority in war on talent

But increased productivity is not the only reason for organisations upping the ante on flexible working and reduced hours.

With the pandemic having served to intensify interest in and support for more flexible working practices, employees are prepared to walk away from a job if they don’t get the benefits that they feel they deserve (aka The Great Resignation).

And in one of the most competitive labour markets the UK has ever experienced, where the number of job vacancies has soared to a record high, and where the war on talent has never been greater, employees are calling the shots. That means if businesses want to attract and retain talent, they need to give employees what they want.  

Atom Bank’s Mullen hopes that with the introduction of less hours and a four-day week, it will help attract talent at a time when staff attrition at the bank is “unusually” high due to the pandemic. “With Covid-19 causing vast numbers of people to reconsider how they want to live their lives, anything that leads to more productive, healthier, and crucially, happier, colleagues, is a win for everyone,” he says. 

Enhanced benefits – extended parental leave to wellbeing days

While the offer of a four-day working is one workplace perk seeing traction, employers are padding out their benefits packages in all areas in an attempt to ease burnout, improve work-life balance, improve productivity and retain top talent.

Among the benefits being enhanced by UK employers are parental perks with an increase both in paid leave days for both parents and increased flexibility upon a parent’s return; annual wellbeing days; and even unlimited holidays.

Recent data from job site Indeed reveals that the number of jobs offering ‘generous’ or extended parental leave has risen by 201% with enhanced parental leave packages now three times higher than it was in 2018. AB InBevVirgin Money and law firm TLT are among the latest UK companies to announce enhanced parental leave policies.

Meanwhile, London financial services firm Finncap Group has just announced unlimited holidays for its employees from 2022 onwards, in a bid to prevent burnout.

Recognising that their employees were experiencing mental health strain due to the pandemic, the firm announced that employees must take a minimum of four weeks leave plus 2-3 days every quarter and can take as much leave as they need.

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