Why We Launched Wellness Wednesdays
Perry Timms for People Management
Perry Timms for People Management
A four-day working week won’t suit everyone, says Perry Timms, but so far it’s boosted his team’s energy, engagement and productivity.
The world is full of abnormalities of late, so the line between this and ‘normal’ has become increasingly blurred. One ‘abnormality’ – but that nonetheless has a growing movement behind it – is the four-day working week.
The concept first came to my attention at a Hackathon I ran for a large city council where the breakout I supported was the issue of lack of career opportunities for working carers. In the discussion, we all concluded that the five-day, full-time operating week was the biggest barrier to career progression for working carers.
I was vexed by this unfairness and thought long and hard about why jobs at a more senior level couldn’t be recast as job shares or more flexible or alternative hours. Fast forward to now and we have several movements – perhaps most famously being led by the New Economics Foundation and the TUC – weighing in on a four-day week.
Equally, there are a lot of sceptics – whom I have to call out as probably never having even experimented with this long term, or who tried it but found it was more pressure and intensity so dropped it. C’est la vie – it didn’t work for them.
At the nine person, four time zone-distributed HR, OD and change consulting firm I founded in 2012, we have just started our great social experiment in this area. We were tired by the monotony of every day in the same space at the same screen, yet also loving the safety and comfort of home working. We had that choice to make – many others don’t, I fully appreciate that. Yet we couldn’t escape the fact that we all felt suboptimal; mojo gone, distracted, tired, unfocused and struggling to balance short bursts of low-cognitive admin with deep thinking work for clients.
Our idea, somewhat fuelled by interest in the four-day working week, was this: Wellness Wednesdays. We would be off duty that day. From the outset, we took the decision that this wasn’t about cutting pay or consulting fees. It was restoring – or even discovering – an optimal way to be with our work and ourselves. We deliberately didn’t do a Friday or Monday off. We all felt long weekends were great but the restart of a Monday felt harsher. So we ‘punctuated’ the week – a word that really resonated.
Four weeks in, and here’s what we’ve found:
We didn’t really suffer from high levels of sickness absence, but we wanted to avoid that. We were noticing more headaches and lethargy so we think we’ve arrested that before it became an issue.Now to put it into context. Yes, we’re only nine people; most teams are that size in larger corporates. We’re also incredibly short on working capital so this is a big deal for us; if we lost work, we’d be in danger. It’s so early on, it would be wrong for me to give false hope that this was the answer. But we are measuring this and will report in more detail with data, experiences and realisations in November.Most of all it’s brought sharply into focus what other experiments in this area (like Andrew Barnes and Perpetual Guardian) have found:
So am I advocating you all do this? Not at all. I can see many reasons why this wouldn’t work for everyone. What I am advocating is that you pay more attention to the fact that presenteeism, a five-day working work and long hours are not the only way. This format is possibly contributing to record levels of work-related stress (595,000 lost working days in 2018, according to HSE research). And I am advocating you work with your own people to experiment with different ways of working.