Moving to a 4-Day Work Week!

Feature page: Success Story: 4 Day Work Week

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As a dental laboratory servicing the dental sector here in Ireland over the past 30 years, it has been crucial to embrace change always and figure out a way to expand and support our customers and team members along the way. Our supply chain is also a very integral part of our business, so working with our key partner, Zirkonzahn® and supporting local suppliers requires careful consideration also in our service provision. This has been especially important since the Celtic Tiger crash in 2008 and during the recession that ensued, but in more recent times, post Brexit and during Covid-19 which left us all dealing with a lot of new changes to our work life. Many businesses had no option but to adapt to life offsite during the Pandemic, but for a manufacturing business this was not so easy and finding a way to support the team, the business and customers left us looking at the 4-Day Week concept that was being successfully adopted and adapted to fit in many businesses in other countries and within Ireland also. Has it been a success? Absolutely!

Let’s break down the success of working a 4-Day work week together, and go through why the dental industry must adapt this new initiative to provide their dental team the best quality of Work-Life balance.

4-Day Week: 1 Year Down! (09.05.23)

4-Day Work Week Success

Open Mindset:

There is a famous saying “life must be lived forwards, but only understood backwards” and as business leader, I sat down with the owner and dental technician, Paul Dowling in September 2021 prior to returning to work myself post Pandemic and asked what we could do to breathe new life and energy into the business. As the first dental technician to bring digital technology to the laboratory sector in Ireland in the 90’s, Paul was open to possibilities which offered the business a chance to move away from an old, cumbersome method of producing restorations to a new and exciting era in technology advancements at the time. He was curious and ready to adapt to further changes as the business returned to a new norm over time post Covid. 

Manufacturer Approach:

We knew from talking to other sectors that the 4-Day Work Week doesn’t work for everyone, so initially we also looked at hybrid or flexible working options, but that was way too difficult for a service manufacturing industry like us. We had several factors to consider when it came to adopting and adapting to a 4-Day week. We need to look at the productivity impact of losing a day onsite effectively, engagement from staff and customers, alongside morale within the team to work in a new way, but most importantly, we really wanted to focus on the wellbeing and retention of our team and reinvent the business along the way.

As an SME business in Ireland, being small meant that we also had a smaller workforce to work with for scheduling, and time management of the manufacturing needed careful planning. We explored several options and looked at the impact of trying to split the manufacturing team into a Monday to Thursday group and a Tuesday to Friday group for production and it was good in many ways. However, we found that reverting to a Monday to Thursday team approach worked best for our main technicians after 6 months. The traditional and 3D printing model rooms are working Monday to Friday alongside our operations team, and this affords us the chance to work in a very specific way overall as a team. Fridays are critical for our operational and model room team to prepare cases and projects for the next week ahead, but they also finish earlier too, so all the team get an adapted work week. Friday afternoons were often very quiet, and the team were ready to stop for the weekend also, so we do not feel we lost anything by working until 2.30pm, because we are more organised now. We know that our customers still need support on a 5-day week basis, because dental practices operate differently in general to laboratories.

We are aiming to expand our operations team in the coming months and that will offer more flexibility to our Friday team also, who have been striving to ensure everything is organised for a positive Monday for the dental technicians. 

Immediate Benefits:

Of this new working week for the team were instantaneous! The change in mindset for both employer and employees was positive. It worked for us all.

Increased Motivation: Our productivity went through the roof, and we started to also see time freed up for new projects and more training and development. The team was getting a 3-day weekend and returned refreshed and ready to start the week with a new energy.

Employee Personal Gain: Time for personal development, family life and a reduction in travel/commuting time in the work week were key points mentioned by our team. Also, some of our technicians come from abroad and we were able to support them getting home for a long weekend too, which was really lovely to see.

Increase Efficiency: Maintenance tasks that would ordinarily only be scheduled during a quiet period or during summer or winter shutdown could be managed sooner.

Workflow Management: One week before we moved to the 4-Day schedule we completed renovations and new equipment installations onsite. That also supported how our new working week would work. Our workflow efficiencies improved, and we had time to attend to developing new investments for the business also.

Work Space – 2022
Workflow Efficiency – 2023

Decreased Overtime: The necessity for overtime disappeared and the team only rarely needed to do the odd piece of overtime, but in general it is not something we encourage.

Work – Wellbeing: We were also focusing on making the 4-Day week work to prevent burnout, reduce stress and promote them to be more focused and happier in their development in the business. The need for time off also for different appointments reduced within the team as they now have time off during the week for this. We are much more consistent, and predictability is increasing because of these overall changes.

Core Necessity:

The 4-Day week is important when it comes to the innovation piece that happens when you have the whole team together on a day-to-day basis. We found that the early morning huddles before the phone started hopping was a game-changer for the technicians. That couple of hours at the start of the day is when the technicians can all talk about different challenges, issues or just support each other on cases for the week ahead. Then, as soon as the administration team comes in, we have the time to direct and sort out issues they need answered by the technicians. It is a busy 4 days, Monday to Thursday, especially for cases arriving and being dispatched. The mornings are also busy with cases arriving traditionally in the post or by courier and the administration team work very closely with the technicians to ensure communication for solutions is correct. If information is missing that needs to be handled as quickly as possible.

Since the Pandemic we have also been facing a newer change in the business, our customers’ adoption of IOS (Intra Oral Scanning) and this has seen us needing to adapt to how we manage this in the business both technically and operationally. The planning and capturing of cases prior to dispatch for marketing and social media engagement is usually done at the packing stage of dispatch in the evening. We have been able to condense this to certain days of the 4-Day week to ensure that we have a good system going. It is giving us time to create new processes and efficiencies on how we manage the business overall. One of our main goals was to become a “Guaranteed Irish” member in 2023 and our overall improvements having implemented the 4-Day working week allowed us to better align with the core values of achieving that goal. This also supports our direction in the business to become a center of excellence for our customer base as a local employer and dental laboratory manufacturer bringing “Guaranteed Irish” dental crown & bridge and prosthetic products to market, whilst supporting our local community.

Customers View:

What do our customers think about it? Honestly, we have not seen or heard any negative thoughts on it. In fact, because we have become so much more efficient and improved our service offering, we notice the phones don’t ring as often anymore. The condensed work week on production leaves Friday in particular, as a great day to focus on the operational side of the business as there are no machines running and fewer people onsite. We have systems in place to ensure that all queries are managed via our website also. Our clients hopefully will trial the 4-Day Work Week in the future also.

It is a cultural shift for many of us in the sector, but one worth investigating. Not everyone can do it, but if you are a dentist or Specialist dentist with a large enough team to offer a shorter working week to, then it might be something for you. 

Staff Retention and Growth

We especially see this for the team. Time has been a precious commodity since the Pandemic, and we have seen that money is not always the most important factor for someone coming to interview with us. Not everyone wants to work a 5-day week anymore and we have 2 amazing women who work part-time in a team. It affords them the opportunity to participate in the workforce and maybe even to think about working 4 days in the future if they want as it is meeting the need not to be in work all week.

The Cost-Of-Living Crisis:

The cost of living has been on our radar post Pandemic and with the war in Ukraine we were challenged with lots of price increases, supply issues and we saw this inside the business also. Members of our dental technician team that were commuting were the other consideration for a reduced working week, but equally for the environmental reduction benefits by reducing our carbon footprint with travel. Running our machines 4 instead of 5 days was the other factor. We are definitely more efficient that way also and reducing the costs of the business.

Steps To Success: 4-Day Work Week

Is a 4-Day-Week Right For You?

Adopting a 4-Day Working Week is a huge leap of faith for everyone involved, but it is also important that as an employee your values align with the needs of the business for you to get the most from working in this type of model. Our business predominantly requires an onsite team presence and that will not be a good fit for someone looking for a flexible role, or the opportunity to work remotely. The days are extremely busy, and we now require much more collaboration as a team and with our customers on a day-to-day basis. As a business leader, I am often on the road at various exhibitions, conferences, or meeting clients and suppliers, but when I am back onsite, I immediately feel the energy and creativity happening onsite and I do miss it when I am not there. I also see a great deal of ease and movement within the team daily since we adopted the 4-Day week. The boss has finally even started to be able to move with ease during the week between the team, supporting them where needed and getting more time off to see the bench to deal with other business requirements. 

Conclusion

Wellbeing and morale have improved 10-fold for our team, you can see it. I also say, if you give yourself 10 days to do something, it will take 10 days. When we decided to condense our work week to 4 days, we saw very quickly how to manage it much better. This model is giving our technician’s a new lease of life also, as many worked more than 5 days per week previously. As a profession, they are difficult to find now and we need to protect them and provide the best working environment, where they have time to mind themselves and more time for growth also. Environmentally, by reducing our manufacturing days, we are hoping that the efficiency in the business will translate long-term to our contribution to a cleaner environment. We still have more to do on that front!

Can you see any benefits for your dental laboratory or dental practice and team reading this? I hope so, because we know that it is worth a shot!

Dental Industry Insights:

Paul Dowling (DT) – Business Director

Jackie Ffrench – Business Development Lead

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