A four-day working week could boost productivity, lead to happier, less stressed staff – and save UK businesses £billions a year, according to research by Henley Business School. We chatted to several businesses in the Sheffield City Region already offering flexible working to find out employers and employees are benefiting.

Tomasin Reilly, Senior Associate, CMS

I’m a solicitor in commercial property with CMS and qualified nine years ago.

Since then I have had two children and am a working mum to a five-year-old and a two-year-old.

When I returned to work nearly four years ago from my first maternity leave, I worked part time equivalent to 4 days a week, first by having two mornings off a week, then switched to having one full day off off and now I work five days a week but start early and leave early to do school pick up some days.

This was because I want a rewarding career, but I still want to be a present parent, too. Some parents say they don’t want to miss sports days and nativity plays but I want to be there for the regular things, too – teatime, bath time, bedtime – so I can hear about their everyday happy moments and their worries.

A lot of families have two parents working these days and while it’s helpful financially, I also think being a working parent means I have experiences and an outlook which I can bring to being a parent which I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a career.

There are quite a few other solicitors and secretaries in my department that work non-standard hours at CMS and fee earners are able to work from home one day a week, regardless of whether they are parents or not.

I’ve really benefited from these different work patterns and I don’t think my quality of work has changed because I work non-standard hours.

In fact, returning from maternity leave I noticed I think I even got better at my job as I was more focused.  I was promoted after returning from maternity leave and whilst working part time.

Most of my clients don’t even know I work part-time – it’s irrelevant because it has no impact, the level of service is no different and just because I am not in the office doesn’t mean I am unavailable. I’ve completed multi-million pound deals while working from home.

I’ve seen a real difference over the last few years when it comes to flexible working and different work patterns in my industry and workplaces generally.  CMS now has a policy of promoting flexible working.  There’s still a way to go but things are definitely improving.

Amanda Bennett FCIPD, Head of HR and OD, Berneslai Homes

At Berneslai Homes we look to offer flexible working wherever possible in order to ensure our employees maintain an excellent work-life balance.

We offer a range of flexible working opportunities at all levels of the organisation and many of our staff have adjusted their working pattern to suit their lifestyle.

Many of our employees utilise our ‘flexi-time’ scheme to support work-life balance, as it gives staff the ability to manage their own time effectively, or adjust their daily hours should they need to.

Berneslai Homes also offers a range of varied contracts, including compressed hours, term-time, job share and part-time working.

We currently have many members of staff who take advantage of the benefits of such contracts – these officers are from across the organisation, anywhere from administration, to senior managers and construction operatives.

Our ability to offer these flexible working options often depends on service provision and ensuring value for money, but we endeavour to ensure our organisation offers flexible working wherever possible as we understand the importance of work-life balance for our staff.

Chris Hill, founder and Chief Executive of youth charity Element Society.

I founded Sheffield-based youth charity Element Society in 2013 as a response to the needs of young people together with a lack of youth support services caused by austerity measures.

I’ve been CEO since 2016 and we recently moved to the old Yorkshire Building Society premises opposite the top of Fargate.

We’re a youth-led charity that empowers young people to make a difference in their lives and communities – and that tends not to fit into a standard 9 to 5 schedule!

The charity operates a flexible working hours’ policy that allows team members to work their weekly hours on a schedule that suits their life, as long as they are attending essential meetings and events.

These means team members can have late starts or leave early to make appointments without having to go through a process of booking leave or requesting a change to hours.  This empowers the team to have greater control over their working lives.  There’s no worrying if your dentist can only see you at 10.15 on a Tuesday, you’ve had a bad night’s sleep or just found out your long lost cousin has come to Sheffield and wants to take you out for a meal and several drinks on a Thursday night.

The team tend to use this arrangement in three main ways.  The first is matching working hours to the demands of their personal life on a day to day basis for example Will who has recently joined Element told me our flexible working arrangements have been a ‘God-send’ since he and his partner had a child.  He has been able to start later after a long night with the baby, work a little later on a few weekdays and still finish early using banked hours to take his partner out for a celebratory meal with his pay cheque.

Another method of taking advantage of the flexible working arrangements is to bank lots of hours over our busy period to use at a more convenient time.  For example, Annie built up a bank of hours so that she could take extra time to concentrate on writing her dissertation on human rights and people trafficking for her Master’s Degree at Sheffield Hallam University.

Finally, staff can reduce their hours and owe them back to the organisation.  Another member of our team, Nabeela, wanted to work on a project with another charity, so she reduced her hours with Element and spent most of the summer with them. Nabeela will pay these back by working additional hours over our autumn programmes.

We believe flexible working empowers our team to be better at empowering young people.

Miriam Berry, director, Verus Recruitment Partners Ltd

I set up Verus with my co-director Jamie Griggs in February this year because we both had young families.

Between us we’ve got 12 years’ experience working for big recruitment companies where the culture traditionally tends to be you have to put in all the hours and if you don’t you won’t be successful.

But in fact, when I returned to my previous job after being on maternity leave working part-time, I found I was a lot more productive and did better financially as well compared with being full-time.

Jamie and I both wanted a better lifestyle balance. Family was the priority, not work and we knew with both of us having young children aged two, three, four that putting in hours like 8:30am til 8pm or even 9pm, wasn’t going to be practical or make us happy or productive.

At Verus we want to create a flexible environment so we can recruit and retain the best recruiters.

We specialise in IT, tech and digital and if you’re very strict about your expectations about the sort of working hours you risk putting off a lot of highly skilled people. In recent years the IT and tech industries have become a lot more open to people who want reduced hours and flexible working, perhaps because they know they are missing out on skilled women, in particular.

But it’s not just working parents – there are plenty of skilled disabled people who might be put off by traditional working hours, as well as people from the ‘sandwich generation’ (people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children).

Putting in ridiculous hours doesn’t make you more productive – it can lead to poor health, high stress and fatigue levels and burn-out. Flexible working can boost your business and boost family life for your staff, too.

My co-founder and I both work a four-day week but to different schedules so there is always someone in the office and we know that our belief in flexible working has to be mirrored in our own recruitment and employment practices.

Flexible working is all about trust and maturity – if you show your employees you trust them to manage their time and deliver, they will respond accordingly. And those who don’t won’t stay under the radar for long.

And, of course, it’s not just recruiting people – it’s retaining them. Employers are increasingly looking to hang on to their best assets with creative employment contracts balanced with more flexible hours.