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The 4-Day Work Week: The Future of Work or A Work in Progress?

The concept of having a shorter workweek isn’t a new one by any means. Industries have long since recognised the benefits it can provide for employees and their business, with the (then-revolutionary) idea of a 5-day work week first being introduced in 1926 by American businessman Henry Ford (as well as the two-day weekend) during a time when, in the midst of the industrial revolution, it was the norm for those in Britain to work 6 long days.

With a 5-day work week in place, employers recognised its massive success in increasing employee wellbeing & productivity, and addressing concerns like absenteeism. The shorter workweek then, as we know, went on to become a part of everyday working life for people worldwide.

But since then, despite much talk of this trend bringing another transformation of the structure of the current working week, it has remained unchanged for over a century.

Until recently, that is.

On Trial – The 4-day Week

The idea of a 4-day, or 32-hour work week had begun to garner mainstream attention in the last few years, with six countries (Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and the US), already experimenting with it over the past year. In June 2022 we saw the introduction of the first UK 4-day workweek trial, (piloted by organisations 4-Day Week Global and Autonomy) in which 61 companies and 2,900 workers participated, which sought to achieve the same results as the current working week structure and find a better common ground between employers and employees.

And with the results of the trial having been published in February 2023, we now have a glimpse into how it could work across a variety of sectors in what has been heralded by and large as a resounding success.

One of the biggest selling points of the 4-day week notion to employers is the increase in productivity that workers experience. Contrary to how counterintuitive it can appear at first, research from a study conducted by the University of Auckland has shown that a shorter workweek can give rise to greater levels of productivity from employees compared to a standard 5-day workweek. The study involved a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, which trialled a four-day workweek for two months and during the trial, employees reported feeling less stressed and more focused, which led to an increase in their productivity levels.

Similarly, in the pilot, many employees reported improved work-life balance, reduced stress levels, and better overall well-being, with 60% of workers finding it easier to combine their work with caring responsibilities and 62% better able to juggle work with their social life. And it’s showing very encouraging signs business-wise as well, as key metrics show that companies’ revenue, by and large, hadn’t changed over the trial period, but instead showed a healthy increase (35% on average) compared to data from similar reports in previous years. The number of resignations in participating companies also saw a significant decline (57%), highlighting the true value of the benefits that the 4-day workweek structure provided to employees.

The most persuasive statistic of all when considering the longevity and permanency of such a working arrangement is that 92% of companies (56) that participated decided to continue with the model, (with 18 of them making it permanent). It certainly seems to offer a new perspective for employers and employees to find common ground when attempting to strike that delicate balance between increasing productivity & sales whilst also creating a more supportive work environment.

Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, Dr. David Frayne, attested to its effectiveness:

“We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy, with multiple benefits. We think there is a lot here that ought to motivate other companies and industries to give it a try”.

What Still Remains Unanswered?

But which questions do the results still not answer? And what are the implications for the working world at large should this become a new reality?

Perhaps the first thing that springs to mind when looking at all the positive discourse regarding the results of the trial is, “can it deliver on the promise it’s showing”? While it’s certainly no pipedream to believe it can, considering the trial’s outstanding results, it does highlight a need for a touch of pragmatism when assessing the 4-day workweek’s feasibility and in particular for sectors where it has proven difficult to implement or has just not been successful when doing so.

Take customer-facing businesses for example.

Unlike other professional services that often involve project-type work (which gives employees a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to deadlines), companies in this line of work must have a certain number of staff on-site to take care of the more hands-on aspects of the role and ensure a smooth running of the business.

Naturally, there are bound to be scheduling challenges that arise because of this when implementing the model as customer needs must still be managed effectively, and the business must ensure that communication between teams and with customers is maintained at all times, meaning the idea of a three-day weekend every week for some companies is just not feasible. Certain sectors such as education, healthcare or public transport may argue that this is just not feasible at all.

And even if staffing and logistics issues could be overcome within these sectors, not all can guarantee a productivity increase (and money on the bottom line) to make up for the reduced hours of a 32-hour workweek particularly as such businesses or public services will have to take on extra staff to cover any shortfalls, meaning extra costs overall.

One such company that ran into several of these practical issues when implementing it across their business is Engineering and Industrial supplies company Allcap. Despite reducing the frequency of their staff’s three-day weekend to once every fortnight (due to the nature of their business), they found adapting to the 4-day workweek model difficult, particularly with the increase in daily workload. Employees found it difficult to benefit from the extra day of rest that they had available, as their new week structure now meant that they had gone from ‘’10 normal working days to 9 intense ones’’, making them exhausted by the end of their week. Added to this was the difficulty in finding enough staff to cover for the absences of employees on their free day when holidays, sickness and caring responsibilities were all factored in. Ultimately, and with two months of the trial still planned in, Allcap was forced to abandon across its main trade sites.

Mass Rollout Or Mass Walkout?

As seen from numerous other examples in the trial results, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach and not all businesses can afford the wiggle room needed to adapt to it, which raises valid concerns about its applicability on a larger scale.

Its scalability isn’t the only question mark about it either, as there is the concern of how sustainable it can be over longer periods of time than just the 6 months, considering the unknown long-term impact of a 4-day workweek’s intense work pattern on the physical and mental well-being of employees.

Could the exact reasons for pushing ahead with the pilot around staff wellbeing lead to a worsened state in the long run? It does very much depend on the sector, the type of work being conducted, and the expectations of the customer base – and on that basis it is harder to see how this could be rolled out en masse irrespective of these nuances.

So what next for the trial? And where does all this leave us with regard to the current state of affairs?

Post pandemic, it is clear that there is a growing focus on greater flexibility from employees who are more mindful of when, where, and how they work. In turn, there has been much narrative from businesses around hybrid, flexi, remote-working and analysis of these changes on the impact on business performance and productivity.

Undoubtedly, there has already been a seismic shift in working patterns as numerous companies move to more flexible means of working, but is a further shift to a shorter week on top of this a step too far – at the moment at least?

“Even as the value of the pound goes up and down, the value of people’s time doesn’t.”

Summed up nicely by the above quote from Programme Manager Alex Soojung-Kim Pang at 4-Day Week Global, perhaps the biggest litmus test for the 4-day model, and currently its biggest barrier to a much-anticipated systematic change, is how well it can fare in not just the current economic climate, but an ever-changing one.

With vacancies harder to fill, and potentially more staff on the books (for some sectors) to accommodate a 4-day workweek, it simply isn’t an option at the moment for some, and whether it can still be as viable and as practical in unfavourable conditions remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, change won’t happen overnight.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal IT personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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Posted By

Joel Okoye

Digital Marketing Apprentice

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The Secret Productivity Hacks of Successful Legal Professionals

  • December 24, 2019

As a legal professional, do you often find yourself derailed at work – from the frequent requests for client meetings to email messages, or seemingly endless caseloads and calls on your time?

It can sometimes feel like you’re being pulled in all directions the second you step into the office. So, focusing on using your time and energy effectively should be paramount to ensuring the success of your law firm, as well as your sanity.

In this article, I will share the secret productivity hacks top legal professionals use to make the most of their working day – they’ll work for you too!

1. Eat the Frog

Firstly, let’s start with one of the main time-consuming issues – that vast amount of paperwork you need to plough through. It may be a report you need to complete or a case you have to prepare; whatever it is, it looks daunting, and you, therefore, spend time ignoring it rather than tackling it head-on.

It was Mark Twain who coined the phrase ‘Eat the Frog’. The basic premise is that if you have a significant but slightly overwhelming task to complete, (i.e. your ‘frog’) – do it first thing in the morning.

Not only is it more likely your productivity levels will be higher earlier in the day, but it will mean you can get it off your desk and concentrate on other work without it looming at the back of your mind.

If you find it challenging to tackle substantial tasks in one sitting, try breaking them down into smaller chunks. Then eliminate all other distractions and make a stat. Sometimes once you’ve started, the rest comes easy. This is because of the dopamine rush we get when we feel productive, and you can harness this to get the job done.

2. Control Your Calendar

Online calendars are a useful tool when planning your time allocation – but be sure use them consistently. Leaving spaces where you have plans will indicate to others that you are available.

So, block out the time you need to tackle critical tasks – and (top tip) if you feel you need thinking time block that out as well. That way, you won’t be thwarted by an unexpected meeting request from a colleague.

3. Plan in Advance

As well as ensuring you have all your needed time blocked off on your calendar, planning is key to managing your productivity. Creating a smart to-do list will help you focus, and save time trying to juggle multiple tasks at the same time (spoiler: this never turns out well).

Getting into a habit is crucial – so, every evening, list five essential tasks you want to accomplish the next day. Doing this means you will already have your agenda when you arrive at the office in the morning.

Rank the tasks in order of importance (remember – Eat the Frog), so you are in control of what is essential, rather than what is pressing (or what sounds easy to tick off the list).

4. Manage the Ping

We are increasingly are overwhelmed with distractions from various connected devices, and legal professionals are no exception. With smartphone and tablet use increasing at a rapid rate, we now spend the equivalent of an entire day every week online.

Harvard Business Review reports that this reliance on our technology is stopping us focusing. And Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä says: “By constantly engaging our stress response [when we check our phones], we ironically are impairing the very cognitive abilities — like memory and attention — that we so desperately need.”

Being in a perpetually hyperconnected state doesn’t allow us the opportunity to process, recharge and refocus our thoughts and energy. So, set aside specific times to check your phone messages, email and other digital distractions. For example, you could check incoming mail at 8 am, 2 pm and 5 pm.

And don’t forget to put your devices on silent.

5. Cut Meeting Time

Are you inviting just the essential people to your meetings? If not, you should be!

Countless studies, including this 2015 HBR research, have shown the benefits of smaller teams.

Focus and responsibility are more challenging to coordinate with a big group. And if you invite colleagues who are not critical to discussions, you will end up with half of the group staring silently at their laptops for the duration of the meeting.

Additionally, it’s worth considering stand up meetings – they are not for everyone, but they certainly cut down on time. If you can’t face the thought of a stand-up meeting, consider quick ten minutes catch-ups over coffee. That way, everyone doesn’t get settled in for the long haul in the boardroom, where scope creep can flourish.

6. Know When it’s Good Enough

Many legal professionals are just that – professional.

But sometimes it’s easy to slip into wanting to make everything perfect. And while I’m not suggesting you should cut corners, sometimes good really is good enough.

For example, if you’ve spent days working on a report and you know it’s finely crafted, ask yourself -will it make any difference if you send it to your senior partner now, or wait another night to tweak it even further? Is it good to go?

7. Don’t Forget to Delegate

Failure to delegate can result in overwhelm.

You don’t have to take on everything yourself. Your competent and professional legal team are there to help!

So, delegate work where you can. Not only will it free you up to concentrate on the critical cases, but it will also allow your paralegals to prove that they can be trusted to do a good job.

8. Remember to Take Time Out

It’s essential to allow yourself frequent breaks. Taking time away from your desk provides the opportunity to reflect, de-stress and recharge, leading to better levels of productivity.

Additionally, it’s critical to keep learning new things to expand your knowledge and creative thought. So, invest in lifelong learning – from training on how to use the new computer data programme in your law firm, to reading up on the latest legal cases and news in the Law Gazette.

Next Steps

I hope these hacks have provided you with some useful tips on managing productivity better to get the most out of your day.

If you’re reading this article because you are looking to develop your legal career, call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal IT Personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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Is Your Strategic Plan Still Fit For Purpose?

  • September 1, 2019

How long is it since you wrote your strategic plan?

Some Senior Partners and Managers in law firms write their plan and then place it with some reverence in a dusty file somewhere, never to be reviewed again.

I know that’s a bit extreme, but it does happen.

It’s best to consider your Strategic Plan as a working document that you can refer to as you move from where you are to where you want your firm to be.

You may have incorporated long- and short-term goals in your plan. You may have mini-milestone achievements to celebrate along the pathway. And you may even have referred to the plan to make sure you are still following it.

But is it still relevant?

Things can change, and your law firm may have different goals to those in the original document. A Strategic Plan should not be something that is set in stone; it’s an honest, relevant and significant document that reflects your firm’s current state and how you plan to achieve your aspirations.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to review it and ask yourself the question, “Is it still fit for purpose?”

If it is, then that’s great. You can go back to work and don’t need to read further!

However, if you have an inkling that perhaps it could do with a few tweaks here and there to make sure it’s current and reflects your law firm’s ambitions as they stand today, then read on…

Is It Realistic?

So many strategic plans fail, and the main reason for failure is that they are not achievable.

It’s fine to set yourself high goals, but if you make them impossible to achieve, you only serve to demotivate your entire firm as they struggle in an uphill battle that they can’t win.

So, while your goals should be something to aspire to, they should also be realistic.

Conversely, it may be that when you wrote the original plan, your end goals were something you considered as something to strive for in the future, but now you know they are easily achievable in a shorter time frame.

In this case, you may want to move your original overall goals into ‘milestones’ and set yourself another ultimate goal.

Just make sure it’s realistic too!

Is It Still Aligned to the Firm’s Ethos?

Depending on when you wrote the strategic plan, it could be that the ethos of your law firm has changed.

For example, you may have improved workplace well-being; by embracing diversity and inclusion in your law firm and implementing recognition and reward schemes for employees.

Celebrate and reflect this by adjusting your plan to accommodate these admirable factors and set milestones for more of the same!

Are the Timelines Still Relevant?

Additionally, check your timelines and deadlines. Are they doable?

It could be that you have more – or fewer – staff in your law firm than previously. This could impact on your ability to achieve deadlines and may need some adjustment either way.

Or it could be that your employee numbers are the same, but your workload has increased dramatically. In which case, you may want to allow yourself a little longer to hit deadlines.

Who is Leading the Projects?

Initially, you will have assigned individuals to lead specific projects within your strategic plan.

Are the personnel in charge still the best people to lead on projects?

It might be that they have moved on, retired or even been promoted to a role which doesn’t allow them to focus on the initial area assigned to them.

What about the new talent within your law firm?

It may be that you have a new, gifted IT Manager who would be perfect to take over the reins of developing an improved in-house IT system, or that your recent Practice Director hire is ideal for overseeing the firm’s expansion plans.

Have You Communicated Goals to Your Team Recently?

Are your employees all up to speed on the strategic plan?

If you have had several staff changes, now may be a good time to go over the plan again, taking into account the new talent within the firm who can help you achieve long and short-term goals.

Revisiting the strategic plan will also embed a sense of belonging and ownership within the law firm as a whole, encouraging everyone to play their part in its achievements, celebrating milestones and working collaboratively to achieve the aims set down.

I can’t overemphasise the importance of transparency in your communication with your team – you need to get them on board with your strategic plan; otherwise, that’s all it is, a plan with no-one engaged and willing to take it forward.

And trying to take anything forward in those conditions will prove difficult.

Has the Marketplace, or Your Clients, Changed Significantly?

Finally, take some time to consider the legal marketplace around you.

It may have expanded or decreased in your area, both geographically and in terms of specialisms; talent may have become more challenging to find and hire. It may be that you should consider revisiting some of your plans.

Have the requirements of candidates changed since you wrote your plan? Is it worth reconsidering your hiring, onboarding and expansion strategies?

Do you need to rethink company culture and the part it plays in helping you grow your legal team?

Additionally, what about your clients? Has your client base changed? Does your geographical location still work in terms of serving those clients?

Does the service you offer reflect their needs? Do you offer more specialisms, or has the firm decided to go more ‘niche’?

In either case, do you need to revisit any of your original goals?

What Next?

Revisiting your Strategic Plan and ensuring it’s still fit for purpose will enable you to make sure you’re on the right track for success in your law firm.

It will enable you to move forward with relevant goals and strategies in place, and help with employer branding by positioning you at the front of the pack.

So, it’s crucial to see your Strategic Plan as a working document in order for it to be useful.

Don’t let it sit in a file any longer!

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking to grow your legal business, call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options. With our help, your transition can be smoother and quicker.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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