At GCVS, we are now more than half way through a six-month trial to reduce the working week. Like many others, we have followed news and reports of similar pilots in the UK and abroad, and the Scottish Government is supporting the idea as an effective way to improve work/life balance. In this blog we’ll outline why, how and what’s next for this approach.
Why change the working week?
The pandemic changed the working routine for GCVS staff, just as it did for so many others, as working from home became the new normal for many who were previously office-based. We temporarily shut our home in the Albany, in Glasgow’s Woodland area, to move operations to our living rooms and offices. And just like others we quickly learned to adapt. This continues to be the case, with most employees working remotely and we’re pleased to say that it works well for us. However, we strive to be innovative as an organisation and adaptable to new ideas that will enhance productivity while giving people better balance and flexibility.
There are many different approaches being considered by employers across the globe and a wide range of considerations to take into account. For instance the IPPR Scotland findings support a shorter working week and state that “80% [of Scots] believe a four-day week would have a positive effect of their wellbeing” and “65% [of Scots] believe that it would have a positive impact on Scotland’s economy”. Alternatively, a six-hour day is another popular approach, particularly in Scandinavian countries. Norway and Denmark have workweeks shorter than 40 hours, and are respectively the second, and seventh, most productive countries in the world. In addition to looking at the evidence, we had to consider what is best for us, our team, and those we serve.
GCVS Chief Executive Ian Bruce said:
“Our team works really hard and it’s important to find ways to reward that dedication and put staff wellbeing first. We’re also acutely aware of burnout in the sector and want to be ‘leaders in good practice‘, trialing and following the advice and suggestions we would give to others.
The benefits of reducing the working week, or adapting to a shorter working day, are well documented, but we also need to balance that with what people and the organisation feel is practical and most beneficial. The solution is not simply to reduce the amount of work we do, or to expect people to work faster, which is why we began with a full consultation period for staff to develop what changes could work for us.”
The Consultation Process
As an organisation with multiple teams and working styles, it was our concern that while a reduction in working hours may be welcomed, it may also be a shock to the system. There are big differences between GCVS teams who are task-based and work to customer demands, alongside staff who are outcome-focused with more autonomy for their diaries and workloads. So, we set up a series of sessions to explore meaningful discussions about staff capacity, the things that were working well and areas for improvement. Rather than focusing purely on the idea of reducing hours, we wanted to learn first what we could do as an organisation to support staff capacity.
Consultations were carried out in groups of established teams using online whiteboards to give staff an opportunity to contribute anonymously. This also made it easier to pick out themes that were worth highlighting to the GCVS management team for further follow up.
Colin Vincent, who was in the role of GCVS Change Manager at the time, led the consultation process as well as each team discussion. He said:
“This was a great opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with staff about something as fundamental as how they do their work. That’s a conversation so few people get to have, and it was great to lead these conversations.
On the idea of the reduced working week, I expected a mixed response, especially from the task-based teams who would understandably be thinking: ‘How can I do the same amount of work in less hours?’
For some teams who struggle with capacity already, it was difficult to identify big changes that would help them so we had to explore smaller changes that seem insignificant but, when combined, can make a big difference. That included things like better technology, but also about how teams share work around the organisation and manage expectations to reduce pressure.
A number of staff expressed that they already have a degree of autonomy and flexibility, which is giving them a positive balance. That’s a really positive thing to hear but the challenge with dedicated, passionate staff in that position is making sure they aren’t working too much and it’s being disguised by the flexibility.”
There was a lot to take away from the meetings and sessions which followed and it was positive to note that many staff expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to have these discussions.
The Next Steps
After reviewing the results of the consultation process and discussing further with the management team and the GCVS board, we decided to trial a 32 hour work week for 6 months. This equates to a half day given back to full time staff with no reduction in pay and aims to create a more productive and where possible flexible working week that leads to improved wellbeing overall.
The pilot began in August with detailed guidelines shared to staff to clarify in as much detail as possible the options available. For instance, a full-time worker now has 3 hours back to take when they want and while some simply finish early on a Friday, others are saving their hours to take a day back every fortnight. Many staff work in part-time roles at GCVS which was raised its own challenges of how this benefit could be shared fairly. Working with their managers some instead were instead offered an increase in salary if reducing their hours further wasn’t a viable option.
Initial feedback suggests the implementation has gone well. Colin told us:
“Three hours doesn’t seem like much on paper but actually, it’s almost a half day. For a lot of staff, it’s the opportunity to take some time out of their working week to do something meaningful for themselves or to take care of an errand that would cut into their personal time otherwise and that seems to be making a big difference.”
The next step for us is to gather more detailed data from staff on how they feel the change is affecting them and their workloads. Now that the pilot has passed the mid-way point it is a good time to capture a realistic measure of how things are going and if this will become a more permanent change for the future. We look forward to sharing more on this in the coming months.