Big four accounting and services firm PwC has told employees they can finish work early on Fridays over the summer.
Between 1 June and 31 August, the firm’s 22,000 staff will be able to stop working at lunchtime, assuming their work has been successfully carried out.
The new policy stems from the popularity of PwC’s “summer working hours” pilot in July and August last year, with a survey of 6,000 staff revealing that about 75% of staff felt that the shorter hours improved their general sense of wellbeing and 93% agreeing it positively impacted their day-to-day working experience throughout July and August. A large majority said the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends was the best thing about the policy.
The results on wellbeing were a surprise, said Kevin Ellis, PwC UK’s chairman: “We knew summer working hours would be popular with our people, but the positive impact on wellbeing surpassed expectations,” he said. “Not everyone could take every Friday, but they benefited from less email traffic when they did and a chance to switch off properly.
Ellis added: “We’ve had another exceptionally busy year and as we approach the summer holiday period, we hope our policy gives people more time for themselves, their friends and their families.”
Summer working hours were introduced under The Deal in March 2021, PwC’s hybrid working policy. This allowed workers to decide the most effective working patterns depending on what they are focusing on in what PwC called the “empowered day”. This means they can start earlier and finish earlier if they wish and spend an average of 40% to 60% of their time working with colleagues at the office or client sites.
The policy was also aimed at cutting carbon emissions from commuting and workplace facilities.
The four services giants are competing for staff in a tight talent market and increasingly using remote workers. Deloitte said in June 2021 it would let its 20,000 UK employees decide “when, where and how they work” after remote working during lockdowns proved successful. At the same time KPMG announced staff would be able to work in the firm’s offices for up to four days spread across a two-week period, with the rest of their time spent at home or at client sites. This followed a poll that showed 87% of employees liked not having to commute.
EY in spring 2021 moved to a hybrid model, with the expectation that most of its people will normally spend at least two days a week working remotely with the remainder of their time spent working together in person at a client site or EY office.
In the City, the UK stockbroker FinnCap said last November it would give its employees unlimited holiday to prevent staff burnout, while other financial firms have introduced Zoom-free days and extra days off for staff.
Some services firms, however, have taken more of a “stick” approach than a “carrot” one when it comes to staff working at home. Staff at Stephenson Harwood, a London law firm with several offices abroad, have been told that if they want to work at home for five days a week they will face a 20% pay cut.
Under Stephenson Harwood’s new hybrid and remote working policy, which took effect this month, full-time workers will have to be in the office 60% of the time unless they opt to sacrifice some of their salary for a full remote working contract.
The move has attracted criticism from some within the legal sector. Donald MacKinnon, group legal director at employment law and HR support firm WorkNest, said the policy could prove discriminatory. He said: “For example, if homeworking is being used by a woman because they have caring responsibilities or by a disabled person then arguably paying them a lower wage for working from home may be indirectly discriminatory.
“The employer would need to justify that lower pay is a legitimate and proportionate measure which might depend on whether the employer could show that an employee saves 20 per cent of their wage by working from home.”
“It could also raise equal pay issues if the same work is being carried out by a female home worker compared to a male office worker. It opens up questions around whether the two roles are comparable.
“Ultimately a move such as this could leave an employer vulnerable to potential claims as well as it possibly having an overall negative impact on employee engagement.”