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By Sarah Sharples

November 24, 2021

Staff working at Atom Bank in the UK will get a permanent long weekend with the company cutting employees hours to allow them to work just four days a week – but without reducing their pay.

The British bank said its 430 staff could now expect to take a Monday or Friday off after it lowered their hours from 37 to 34.5.

However, staff who are in customer facing roles or IT are expected to vary which days they have off.

The change is voluntary, but the bank said it was introduced to support employees “mental and physical wellbeing” and to improve productivity.

Most staff have switched to the new way of working since it began at the start of November, with employees are expected to work slightly longer hours over the four days.

Atom CEO Mark Mullen said the pandemic had “exploded many of the myths of the modern workplace”, including the need to be in the office.

“People are working for more than 50 years, it’s multiple marathons, so we’re asking how can we keep our people engaged and keep ourselves healthy,” Mr Mullen told the Financial Times. “I’m quite excited about it — there’s no going back.”

It is the largest UK employer to introduce a four day working week and Mr Mullen said it would provide employees with more opportunities to pursue their passions, spend time with their families, and build a healthier work/life balance.

He added that studies from Europe found reducing full time hours from 40 down to 35 or 35 showed no impact on the performance of the business and actually increased productivity.

“We moved our entire bank to homeworking in a weekend with no disruption to customers, and that kind of opens your mind about what you thought was impossible,” he said.

What’s happening in Australia?

It’s a slower embrace over here with a few company’s embracing the concept.

Last year in July, Australian digital marketing company Versa trialled an employment initiative that allowed employees to take every Wednesday off work — provided they could get all their work done in four days instead of five.

Versa CEO Kath Blackham, who started the agency 10 years ago, said it came out of wanting to give employees a set day to honour their personal commitments and have better mental wellbeing.

Ms Blackham said profit has almost tripled since the Wednesday-off rule came in last July, and Versa’s revenue has grown by 46 per cent in that time.

Inventium, an Australian behavioural science consultancy, has also given its staff every Friday off after a year long trial on full pay.

A worldwide phenomenon

Countries and companies across the world have been toying with the four day working week with Scotland, Iceland, Spain, Japan and New Zealand all trialling something similar in the past.

The Scottish government announced £10 million (A$18.6 million) investment back in September to test out a country wide four day working week with no impact on salaries.

Two Scottish companies — Glasgow-based UPAC Group and Edinburgh-based Orocco — have already been giving their workers three-day weekends without docking their pay.

Iceland has been a trailblazer in the area, testing out a four-day work week between 2015 and 2019, across a range of workplaces including preschools, offices and hospitals.

All up, it included 2500 workers, which is around 1 per cent of Iceland’s working population.

Now, 86 per cent of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will have the right to do it.

Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day week in 2019 and found productivity increased by nearly 40 per cent.

Back in March, the Spanish government announced trials of a 32-hour work week over the next three years.

Meanwhile, a New Zealand company also tried the four-day work week in 2018 and reported a 20 per cent increase in productivity.