Advice firms take ‘leap of faith’ with flexible work weeks

24 July 2023
| By Rhea Nath |
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Recognising the benefits of flexible work weeks on productivity, employee outcomes and engagement, two Australian advice firms have shared their experiences with Money Management.

Earlier this year, non-profit 4 Day Week Global found 95 per cent of the 26 participants in its Australasian pilot program of a four-day week favoured the new schedule. 

On a scale of 1–10, companies rated the overall trial an 8.2. They reported higher levels of satisfaction with business productivity, performance and ability to attract employees. They also observed a 44 per cent average reduction in absenteeism and 9 per cent reduction in resignations over the course of the pilot. 

Employee outcomes were similarly positive with an overwhelming 96 per cent wanting to continue the four-day week post-trial. One in three said they would require up to 50 per cent additional pay to go back to five days in their next job. 

With this in mind, national firm Invest Blue, which has around 90 advisers across 25 locations,  announced in March it had adopted a nine-day fortnight pilot.

The trial intended to give all full-time employees an extra 26 days off per year and came at a cost of some $1.9 million annually.

“We have wanted to do this for a really long time. In quarterly surveys, our people were always saying they needed more time, so they obviously felt they were at capacity as it is with a 10-day fortnight. So, we took a leap of faith,” explained Kasey Patterson, Invest Blue’s head of people and culture.

“We did a bit of research on how to structure this because we didn’t want it to impact the client experience. As a business, we operate in small teams of around six to eight people, so the way we structured it, one half of the team has a Friday off and the other has the next Friday off.”

“These days were set at the start of the trial and weren’t to be changed or swapped, say for public holidays that fell on a Friday,” she said.

Initial results coming in at the end of the trial, which began in February and will conclude at the end of July, have been promising, the firm said. They reveal a slight increase in meetings per planner at 10 days (compared to nine days previously) while tasks completed have increased by 15 per cent. 

Days taken for sick leave have also halved during the trial period. 

“Looking at engagement scores, which we’ve been tracking for close to 12 or 15 years, I think we’re about to get our highest score yet. For a traditional industry, it’s been a really successful initiative,” Patterson added.

“We’ve been gathering the stories of what people are doing with their free time and it’s so nice to see. It’s been things like caring for their family or, say, going to do charity work. 

“We’ve also heard from some of our male employees that they’re now able to have a day off at home, drop and pick up their kids from school, engage in afternoon activities … The stories shared have been awesome.”

Reflecting on the initiative, which Patterson expects will be implemented permanently, four-day weeks are an added employment perk in an already shrunken pool of advisers in the country. 

“There’s certainly not enough of us, so we need to be attracting great people. Going through that recruitment process, we’ve probably been able to attract that because they see the nine-day fortnight as a benefit when they’re tossing up between where to go,” she said. 

Research by recruitment firm Robert Half in April found 71 per cent of employers would support a four-day week and 34 per cent expect they will do so within the next five years. 

Nicole Gorton, director at Robert Half, said: “Companies have embraced remote working as a result of the pandemic, but they are realising there are opportunities to alter their workplace strategies to offer the flexibility their teams request while also supporting culture, collaboration and efficiency.”

This month, Crowe Australasia, a subsidiary of financial advisory firm Findex, became the first large Australian accounting firm to confirm a nine-day fortnight work model as standard practice. 

It followed a successful six-month trial of 340 Crowe employees across Australia and New Zealand, where they were also enabled to take every second Friday off. 

Given its success, Findex’s wealth division will now be trialling the initiative in the first half of FY24. 

Ryan Watson, founder and chief executive officer of Melbourne-based firm Tribeca Financial, looks positively on its decision to embrace four-day work weeks which they implemented formally in 2021 after a trial during the pandemic. 

“By no means were we ‘ready’ to do it, but I’m not sure we were ever going to be ready, so it was about giving it a go,” he told Money Management.

“Our brand promise to our clients is about living their ‘good life’. In order for them to take our advice, I think we have to have practitioners or advisers who are in a great headspace, operating with a growth mindset and living their good life, personally and professionally. So, in part, this was about being a leader to our clients and making sure that we’re on brand, doing what we say we’re doing.”

At the advice firm, everyone takes Wednesdays off, a day which was decided after trialling numerous other arrangements. 

Watson said: “There was obviously a change in the first 12 months, but we haven’t seen any negative aspects to productivity. In fact, we’ve seen upsides on effectiveness in terms of engagement and value to clients. It’s helped us get more focused and effective with less time.

“The exceptions are that, if there’s something urgent that needs to be done for a client, we’ll do that on a Wednesday. This isn’t a hard close, but clients have generally been really supportive.”

He highlights that one of the trickier parts of the initiative was getting individuals acclimated to shorter work weeks. 

“As funny as it sounds, it came down to the individuals getting used to it. There’s a bit of guilt and shame not working on a Wednesday with the world going on around you five days a week. That was probably the biggest change because you’re not doing what everyone else is doing – but that’s alright,” he said.

For firms still on the fence about embracing such arrangements themselves, Watson offers some insight.

“I’d say, if you’re going to explore greater flexibility around work, just understand why you’re doing it. What is the business you’re running? How does the purpose align? All the research says that it works, but it really takes leadership and alignment.”

Gorton added a four-day week is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario and firms need to consider whether they would be better implementing things like early finishes instead.

“Businesses need to evaluate whether this move is possible based on their operational model and customer base. If this is off the cards, offering flexible benefits like remote working options or early finishes provide a strong alternative that allows the opportunity to tend to personal commitments.”

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