As part of our series of interviews with those carrying out sterling work in the employee wellbeing space, we spoke to Rebecca Cook, Associate Director at Charlton Morris, the Leeds-based recruitment specialists which has recently introduced a four day working week.
SWW: Can you tell us about the initiatives Charlton Morris is currently running to boost employee wellbeing. And from those, what is your favourite or the one part of the offering you find most useful?
Rebecca Cook: We’ve partnered with a company so we have a one-stop shop for everything we do that’s wellbeing related, there’s content for sleep, mental health, physical health, financial wellbeing. We also partner with a mental health practitioner who offers wellness chats to anyone who may need to speak with someone professionally and we signpost anything we do from a financial wellbeing perspective. We try to make sure we’re covering all bases.
We have champions throughout the business who are also ports of call for anyone who has any ideas from a wellbeing perspective, to ensure it’s not just coming from me or management, but that it’s coming from the team themselves. The four day working week is obviously great for boosting wellbeing and has a massive impact on everyone within the business, so I’d say this is the most useful part.
We can see that normalising mental health conversation at work is an important part of your wellbeing programme. How have you been able to achieve this?
RC: Recruitment is a high pressed sales environment and typically mental health isn’t something people consider. We wanted to take a completely different approach and part of our vision is to provide the best possible people experience, and enabling and encouraging people to have open conversations about mental health is a big part of that. Our mental health practitioner also offers webinars and workshops where she’ll talk about aspects of mental health whether it’s stress or anxiety, or what might be relevant at the time, and she did some great work during covid. Managers have also had wellbeing training so they are able to have open chats with consultants and we also have Mental Health First Aiders within the business who are utilised a lot so it’s now become a very integral part of our business.
Congratulations on introducing your four day working week. What were the main challenges you faced when implementing this?
RC: I supposed in terms of challenges the first thing we faced was people’s initial reaction ‘What will be the catch?’ ‘Will be expected to work on Friday?’ ‘Will there be expectations if targets aren’t hit’?
The main challenge was making people know that we were completely honest, there wasn’t a catch and we were working with managers and making sure they were on board. Because we knew communication was so important, we didn’t really face many challenges. We made sure we were checking in with consultants on their wellbeing, we didn’t want anybody to feel there was added stress.
To overcome the notion that people might feel ‘how are we going to do our work in 4 days’, we brought in a productivity company to help with productivity hacks and help people plan their day to get the most out of their four day working week.
What benefits have you seen as a business so far following the shift to a four day working week?
RC: The benefits have been endless. Employee wellbeing and engagement is up. We do bi-annually engagement surveys and we can see this is really high. Aside from that, from a business perspective, we’re doing better than we were doing before. We’re filling more roles and we’ve just got a happier team. People have an extra day on the weekend and they’re doing all sorts with that time! We’ve got someone who’s able to play rugby for Cornwall because of the extra day. People have got things like baking side businesses and are able to achieve more of a sense of work-life balance.
And personally, how has it benefited you?
RC: I’m studying for my CIPD so I’m able to complete that without the stress of doing it in the evenings or weekends. It’s great to have a day for life admin, and those little jobs you put off because you don’t want to spend your weekends doing them. And just having a day for myself, just waking up when I want to and not feeling guilty and just going for a walk or something. I feel much more productive in the four days I’m at work, and then I get to have a lovely three day weekend.
Finally on this topic, would you recommend shifting to a four day working week. for those businesses that are able to do so?
RC: One hundred percent. There’s a huge misconception that it won’t work, and everybody’s instant reaction is ‘it won’t work for us’ We did a lot of research beforehand I think most importantly there’s no harm in the trial – when we trialled we were very clear with our communications and very honest with our expectations. We didn’t make any promises because if it didn’t work we didn’t want it to feel like a huge failure. We figured out what worked for us and what needed changing. I think it’s figuring out what works for each specific business, and I think there’s a way around it for everyone – some people do it in shifts, it doesn’t have to be on one day. I think up until the 1940’s a six day week was the norm – I think Boots was one of the first to implement a five-day week* and everyone said it would never work! I think with the shift in technology there’s no reason we can’t all work four days.
When it comes to your own wellbeing, what are your non-negotiables / must-do activities that you turn to, to maintain your wellbeing?
RC: Making sure that I make some time for myself before I start work and making sure that I block out some time for myself during the day – I like to go to the gym or go for a walk, and if I can’t be bothered with that it’s making sure I have a nice breakfast or just doing something for myself before I kickstart my day. Then allowing myself time throughout the day to recognise when I’m losing energy or focus by taking myself for a walk or coffee. I think it’s a bit of a misconception that you need to put hours into your wellbeing but I think it can be 10-15 minutes which is just for yourself and no one else.
How do these activities make you feel personally?
RC: A lot more focused when I’m committing to doing a task, when I’m at work I feel more productive when I’m giving myself those little breaks. I think sometimes we all fall into that trap where you’ve got so much to do you try and push through and think I’ll take a break after but it can make you feel drained. I feel much more focused, energetic and enthused and it also makes me feel calmer, I can be a bit of a worrier and quite stressed out at times so it makes me feel a sense of calm.