Atom Bank moves to a four-day week

Atom Bank Mark MullenAtom Bank Mark Mullen

Atom Bank is moving staff to a four-day week with no loss of pay, making it the biggest UK employer so far to shift away from the traditional five-day week.

The smartphone-based bank, which employs 430 people, is moving most staff from a 37.5-hour working week spread over five days to a 34-hour week over four days, for the same monthly pay. Staff are now encouraged to work “core hours” of 9.30am to 4.30pm Mondays to Thursdays, with those who choose to switch from a five-day week to a four-day week seeing their daily hours lengthened from 7.5 hours to 8.5 hours.

A minority of staff in Atom’s contact centre are on a different arrangement to ensure a seven-day service, though they also are working shorter hours.

While some of Britain’s biggest companies, including Unilever and Morrisons, are experimenting with a four-day week option for some staff, Atom has gone much further, making it the default arrangement.

With vacancy rates soaring and employers grappling with severe skill shortages in some industries, many are increasingly looking to reward and retain talent by offering more flexible working arrangements, including shorter hours, as well as working from home.

Mark Mullen, 53, chief executive, said that the new arrangements would make staff happier and healthier, would help to retain talent and would boost environmental sustainability, while not reducing the effectiveness or overall output of the business. “A lot of the accepted wisdom about work turns out to be just rubbish,” he said, arguing that the five-day working week was entirely a construct of the 20th century. He said that there was a lot of delusion among workplace managers about what really drives productivity: “If you can do things as effectively over four days as over five, why be dogmatic?”

The Durham-based company said that it had conducted “a robust review process, which had confirmed that there would be no risks to customer service or operations”. The review also assessed “productivity, effectiveness, available resources and impact on external partners and stakeholders”.

It said: “Mondays or Fridays are expected to be the default days off for the majority of employees, except for those working in operational and services roles whose day out of the office may vary to ensure a continuous and uninterrupted level of service for Atom’s customers.”

Atom Bank began in 2016 as a branchless bank accessed via digital devices. It offers savings and mortgage products to consumers and small businesses and has just reported its first quarterly profit. It aims to float in 2022 or 2023.

Mullen said that there would still be flexibility for staff who needed it, such as parents doing school runs. The arrangement has been described as a three-month trial. However Mullen, who used to run HSBC’s First Direct banking division, said: “It’s not an experiment. We’re not going back.”