Insight: The four-day working week in PR might not be as far-fetched as you think

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THE four-day working week is not a new concept, writes Koray Camgöz. The shift towards flexible working was in motion long before the pandemic struck. But the decimation of conventional working patterns over the past couple of years has prompted a renewed discussion on where, why and how people work.

The four-day working week has emerged repeatedly in discussions with PRCA members in recent weeks. Those conversations prompted a piece of research with 128 CEOs, directors and department heads from across the industry. The findings were stark. 

More than a third of CEOs and department heads in the UK are open to considering a four-day working week with no reduction in pay, according to the latest PRCA / ICCO Confidence Tracker. What’s more, almost one in ten (8 per cent) organisations already offer employees four-day working patterns.

Horses for courses
The concept of a four-day week shouldn’t be broached casually. Organisations weighing up the move will need to carefully consider their options and forecast its impact on all stakeholders; from colleagues to clients. The simple truth is that this won’t work for everyone.

I switched to a four-day working week under a previous employer shortly after the birth of my first son. A precedent had been set by returning mothers who’d been granted a four-day working week with no reductions in pay. I believed the same principle should be applied to men and so I submitted a detailed proposal of how and why it would work. The proposal was accepted. I was grateful for the flexibility and the personal benefits were enormous. I spent time with my son and saved huge costs on childcare fees for one day a week. 

I felt I managed the switch relatively well; it made me plan my time better and I was more determined than ever to deliver value for the organisation. On a practical level, I kept on top of my work, my colleagues knew my hours, and I was always contactable for urgent queries. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my line manager would feel as though he was getting less from me because he was seeing less of me. I was proved right. A few months later, I was offered a promotion on the condition that I returned to a five-day working week. I accepted and learnt a valuable lesson; company culture and leadership expectations invariably prove decisive. 

New routines require structural change
Though business norms have shifted immeasurably in recent years, there is still an unwavering belief that the comms person must always be on call. One of the principal arguments against the four-day working in PR is that certain PR professionals – particularly those in agencies and the public sector – must always be ready to respond. Who will answer the call when that high-profile media storm blows up? 

But as our appetite to work flexibly grows, so too must our willingness to trial new operating models. Several PR agencies in the UK have already introduced rotas in which some team members work Monday to Thursday and others work Tuesday to Friday, ensuring clients and key stakeholders are not disrupted by any changes. Those who’ve adopted the model speak highly of its impact on staff morale, retention and overall productivity.

Those feelings were captured in a recent PRCA MENA survey. The United Arab Emirates cut its working week to four and a half days earlier this year, in a major shift designed to align business with western markets and improve work-life balance. More than two-thirds (70 per cent) of PR professionals across MENA believe the change has enabled them to work more efficiently and get more work done. More than 9 out of 10 (91 per cent) said the shift had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.

Talent war fuelling the debate
It’s important to consider the factors driving conversations on a four-day working week. The benefits of flexible work were recognised long before the pandemic, but it’s only in the last few months that conversations have been taken more seriously. What’s changed?

In short, far more people in PR are hiring than job hunting at present. The recruitment demand for PR professionals is at an all-time high. 71 per cent of PRCA members are now hiring – the battle for talent is fierce across all sectors and disciplines, particularly at mid and senior level.

What this means is that organisations and agencies are working harder than ever to develop propositions to retain and attract the best people. Salaries are up. Flexible working is up. Job candidates hold more power in determining their schedules than ever before. It’s highly likely, therefore, that discourse around a four-day working week has been accelerated by the current recruitment landscape.

The new routine won’t work for everyone, but many organisations may be forced to grant concessions they might not like for the sake of attracting and retaining the people they need most.

Changes are afoot. The lines between life and work have seldom been this opaque and it will be fascinating to see which changes take shape in the next few months. Everything is in play. 

Koray Camgöz is an internationally experienced, post-graduate communications director. As the PRCA’s director of communications and marketing, he works with business and communications leaders to champion the value of PR and strengthen the Association’s reputation in the UK and around the world. He began his 10-year career at a healthcare PR agency in New York before working in policy and communications at the CIPR. Camgöz holds a master’s degree in media and communications, a PR Diploma and is a chartered PR practitioner.