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Accountancy firm Cooper Parry joins four-day week trial

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 12 Aug 2022

April Bembridge, Partner and Chief People Officer at Cooper Parry, explains how the firm is changing its working practices in order to attract the best talent.

The pandemic made us rethink where we work. Now thoughts are turning to the hours we work, with many companies trialling a four-day week, but using the 100/80/100 principle: 100% of the pay, 80% of the time, with at least 100% of the productivity.

The first UK pilot coordinated by 4 Day Week Global started back in June of this year and is set to close in December. Accountancy firm Cooper Parry is set to be part of the second pilot, testing out the new working system, that starts in October. The firm is currently working on pre-trial support with the organisation to iron out the creases. 

April Bembridge, Partner and Chief People Officer at Cooper Parry, shared with ICAEW Insights why she believes the four-day week system is achievable not just in accountancy, but in any sector if employers are willing to be fluid in their solutions.

Do you think accountants in practice can move to a four-day week?

Absolutely, I think anyone can and everyone can, and I challenge everyone to think about their week in general and where there are opportunities for them to be more productive.

The four-day week trial tagline feels really confusing and perhaps doesn’t fully explain the principle. The 100/80/100 principle is a much better way of explaining it. And I think every single person in the accountancy profession could probably find 20% of their week where they’re not being as productive as they could be and use that time to live their life instead. It doesn’t matter if you’re full time or part time, you find 20% of your week to give yourself back.

How would this work practically in accountancy?

You have to keep in mind that this isn’t about chopping a day off a week. We have no intention at all as a business to dictate to everybody that they must suddenly not work on Friday, Monday or Wednesday. It is about receiving 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity. So where can you find that 20%?

And for some people, that might be not working Friday; for somebody else, it may be that they work a shorter day, every day. For another person, it could be that they start at a later time every day, and that takes off 20%.

It’s a massive experiment and it will be different for every person in our business. I think if we tried to dictate that people had to take a certain day off every day, to get to a four-day week, or 100/80/100, it wouldn’t work for everybody. We would ostracise those that don’t work Friday, for example, because they can’t get involved as much, in social events for example, and we would limit the ability to be available to our clients. Potentially our experiment is going to be about 450 people across Cooper Parry all doing something different to take 20% off their working week.

What would the specific accountancy-related constraints be for this model?

The difficulty is being available to clients. It’s really important that we are still able to service our clients effectively and they don’t feel that they’re getting diminished service as a result of it. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a constraint, but I think it’s something for us to be mindful of. A big part of the trial is taking some of those learnings and feedback.

We’ll be surveying our people regularly and speaking to clients to see if they feel they’re still getting the service that they expect of us. We survey our clients regularly anyway and have really high advocacy scores.

If it’s starting to be flagged that certain areas of the business aren’t giving clients what they need then we’ll need to review and assess and continue to re-experiment and re-trial. We’re really open to just keep playing with this to get it right. We definitely don’t have all the answers to this as it is completely new territory. There’s a lot of controversy around it and we just want to break some of those myths that it can’t be done.

Are the new ways of working here to stay?

We have to change the way that we work with people; we have to give people more freedom and autonomy to make the right decisions. Long gone are the days of micro-management and people being clock-watched or having eyebrows raised when someone walks out of the door at a certain time. People just won’t work and stay in businesses like that.

The balance has to be that we give that freedom, we give that trust, we give that autonomy, but then you work hard and you deliver. And I think if you can find that healthy balance, you’re going to attract top-quality people and you’re going to retain them.

There’s a huge resource issue out there for all businesses now, particularly in accountancy, and it’s a candidate-led market. It’s not always easy to fill roles; you have to stand out from the crowd and you have to be an employer that people want to go and work for where they feel they’re trusted. And that’s ultimately what we’re trying to create.

Related articles

A four-day week would not work for small accountancy firms 

Four-day week: the trial begins

Beating talent challenges by embracing social mobility

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