Could automation pave the way to a four-day week?

Posted: 13/04/2023 | Read time: 3 minutes


Murray Campbell, CASS Business Consultant at AutoRek, considers how calls for a four-day working week could be met by achieving efficiency through automation

Amidst a challenging regulatory landscape of ever-increasing complexity, shifting work practices and individual expectations are adding further challenges for firms to address. Calls to adopt a four-day working week are rising in popularity with staff insisting that their employers at least trial this format.

Of the 60 UK companies that trialled the four-day week between June and December last year, more than 90 per cent have opted to continue with it and 30 per cent have adopted it permanently.

With boosting productivity at the heart of the Government’s legislative and economic agenda, will employers begin to seriously consider implementing a shorter working week? And if so, how will they execute it without affecting output? It could be that automation offers the unexpected key to success.

Challenging time for financial services

Low growth and high inflation in the current economic landscape is hurting many businesses and putting additional pressure on operational departments as companies struggle to budget and resource adequately. And, following the ‘Great Resignation’, workers are looking for opportunities that fit both their professional goals and personal needs.

As a result, highly experienced operations staff are extremely sought-after and come at a growing cost in a much tighter labour market. Companies now need to pay much more to secure required talent.

Meanwhile, operational teams are struggling to cope with the demands of business-as-usual processing. With the risk of having fewer staff members and the potential of a shorter week looming, the question for many financial services firms will be how to balance the demand for a four-day week with the operational demands that spread across the traditional five-day week.

Automation should easily address some of these issues, but uptake has been slow.

The cost involved will always be a significant deciding factor when considering to automate processes. For many firms, costs have so far outweighed need, but with employees demanding more work-life balance and BAU pressures building up – the choice may be taken out of their hands.

What’s next?

The UK financial services industry is facing an extraordinary period of regulatory change and with it brings inevitable operational pressure. Firms must accommodate change however many are likely ill-prepared at a resource level due to the sheer number of employees migrating to new roles, often in different industries.

Firms have been filling gaps by shuffling bodies around departments, but this in itself can create additional operational challenges within a business. And firms that are not adapting to meet the evolving expectations of the new working landscape will struggle to retain talent.

Traditionally, operational departments have been propped up by a series of spreadsheet-based processes and controls. Investment in these areas has typically been overlooked in favour of customer-facing initiatives. However, if calls for a shorter working week are to be taken more seriously, firms will need to embrace greater automation across operational processes.

Delivering efficiencies in these areas could be key to reducing the working week to four days.  Manual processes place a significant demand on operational teams and therefore require material human resource to complete. Streamlining this by leveraging the power of technology can drive many benefits for an organisation and its workforce: firm’s achieve enhanced control and efficiency while staff adopt leading technology and greater job satisfaction.

However, without considerable government and legislative support, how workable is a four-day week in financial services? For example, if the regulatory working week remains 5 days, many processes will still be required across those days and departments will therefore need to be resourced accordingly. Perhaps this provides opportunity to shape what the four-day week looks like, both within organisations and between departments.

Nevertheless, firms that make the transition to automation quickly stand to edge out their competitors. Technology and automation, while driving business benefits and process efficiency, can also be key to enabling greater workplace flexibility. If the four-day week is to become a reality, businesses must overcome the barriers that currently exist to delivering automation.