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The Netherlands government’s advice for people to work at home as much as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic will soon expire, but various studies have shown that employees no longer want to return to the office entirely, but prefer to continue working remotely for part of the week.
Many employers are therefore looking for a way to give shape to hybrid working and Dutch IT company Infolearn has devised a new human resources (HR) concept to improve the work-life balance of its own staff. It also hopes this new approach will make it an attractive employer for the current and new generation of employees.
According to Infolearn, it is important that each employee’s work-life balance is as optimal as possible. The right balance ensures job satisfaction, sustainable employability and being an attractive employer, said Rinske Willemsen, business operations manager at the software company. Its new HR concept, which recently came into effect, has three components: hybrid working at the office, at home or at the customer’s location, a personal mobility budget for employees with a lease car, and a four-day working week with retention of full-time salary.
The reason for the new policy was partly due to the past 18 months, in which almost everyone worked from home as much as possible, said Willemsen. Infolearn also wanted to modernise its HR policy. “About half of the staff worked full-time and the rest of us worked four days,” she said. “We are an innovative software company where many young people work. We didn’t think a 40-hour working week suited us any more.”
This means that since 1 September, every Infolearn employee has been working only 32 hours a week, while retaining their full-time salary. “And we have financially compensated the people who were already working 32 hours a week,” said Willemsen.
A four-day working week provides more balance, making people happier and more charged, she added. “As a result, they perform better in the workplace and are more permanently employable.”
To make up for the lost working hours, the firm has recruited new staff. That means an extra investment, but it should pay off in the long run, said Willemsen. “We are a growing software company. Everyone knows how difficult it is to find and retain talent as an IT company. We are convinced that our target group – young, highly educated professionals – are looking for a good work-life balance, so this helps us in the long run with the growth of our organisation.”
It also provides an important degree of flexibility, as days off are spread within teams and employees should be able to take over each other’s work, she said. “We also believe that a four-day working week helps to combat absenteeism and prevent sickness. In this way, we ensure that our people are permanently employable. If your employees don’t experience stress because they can balance their work and private lives more easily, you benefit as an employer.”
Arlan Bouwman, a product manager at Infolearn, is pleased with his employer’s new policy. “Initially, I noticed some fear among colleagues that we would have to do five days’ work in four days, but it soon became clear that extra people would be recruited to fill in the hours that became available,” he said.
Bouwman has been able to enjoy an extra day’s holiday over the last few weeks – time he spent with family and friends. “It takes some getting used to, when you’re used to working five days a week and then suddenly you have to do nothing for a whole day,” he said. “I’m planning to take a course or training, but first I want to experience what comes up when I don’t have my days full.”
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Willemsen recognised this feeling and added: “Not everyone finds it so easy to find a new meaning for that extra day off. Some people go and do voluntary work, but it is important that others do not feel any pressure when hearing about that. If indeed you lie on the couch all day watching Netflix, that is alright too. Everyone spends their spare time differently.”
In fact, Infolearn brought in a change expert to help and advise employees on the new HR policy, and it was striking that the four employees at the company’s Belgian branch were not keen on a shorter working week. “You notice that in the Netherlands we have a different view on the labour market,” said Willemsen. “Here, we are, of course, champions of part-time work. In Belgium, that is not an issue at all.
“So our employees there were initially very surprised and not very enthusiastic. They had to seriously get used to the idea, but once they had discussed it, the change came and they too are now happy with the concept.”
The new HR policy is not static, but is being continuously evaluated, said Willemsen. The company’s internal happiness survey, for example, is used for this purpose. “In addition to the four-day working week, we also give our employees the choice of where they want to work,” she added. “We have seen that our people know very well where they work most effectively and productively.”
The elimination of travel time during the pandemic, not only between home and work but also from consultants to clients, for example, has made people work more effectively, said Willemsen. “In any case, I think the myth that employees working from home will cut corners has been seriously busted in the past 18 months.”
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, employees working at home do an average of four hours overtime a week, and Bouwman pointed out that a lot of time can be saved by organising work more efficiently. “On the one hand, new people are recruited to fill the hours that have fallen vacant, and on the other hand, we are all working a lot more efficiently, which means we can quite easily get our work done in four days,” he said.
Finally, Infolearn’s HR concept includes a mobility scheme. “Traditionally, many IT companies have an extensive lease fleet and it’s no different for us,” said Willemsen. “But the Covid crisis has also changed our mobility, of course. So we have introduced a scheme whereby everyone who is entitled to it on the basis of their home-to-work distance and position can meet their mobility needs in the way that best suits them.
“A travel allowance or personal budget is made available that employees can use as they see fit. Think, for example, of a private lease car, a shared car, public transport or an e-bike.”
The rigorous overhaul of Infolearn’s HR policy fits within the firm’s external core value, Willemsen added. “We are an innovative and progressive employer and like to be one step ahead of the rest. With this concept, we want to show what we think the new way of working can look like.”
And unlimited holidays? Will they perhaps also be introduced in the future, as several Dutch organisations have already done? “That would fit in with our vision, but we haven’t discussed that yet,” said Willemsen.