Make Four out of Five.
It has been debated for some time and in some European countries it is already being practiced – at least as a pilot project: the 4-day work week.
With around 230 employees, SEHO Systems GmbH develops and manufactures soldering systems and automation technology for the electronics industry worldwide and is one of the most technologically innovative companies in the industry. SEHO is now also taking an innovative approach to employee work-life balance: As one of the first medium-sized companies, SEHO now wants to implement the 4-day work week at the headquarters in Kreuzwertheim.
The 5-day week based on 40 working hours has been in effect in Germany since 1956 and has been seen as a constant in German industry ever since. “We’ve basically been discussing the topic of new working models since 2018,” explains Dipl.-Ing. Markus Walter, CEO of SEHO. „However, the time was not yet ripe and the idea was rejected again. There were too many hurdles to overcome.“
In the meantime, the company, which operates worldwide, has been almost completely restructured. Work processes have been improved, the company’s internal structures have been adjusted in order to be able to react flexibly to market requirements and there has also been a generational change at management level. Most of the team leaders are in their 30s, and not least because of social change, the perspective on “work-life balance”, i.e. the effort to bring work and private life into better harmony, has changed.
With the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, at least for the employees in the commercial departments, things quickly moved in the direction of new working models: Within a very short time, more than 60 employees at SEHO switched to the home office. Several scientific studies have shown that this mobile and therefore more flexible way of working works. The positive effects of mobile working can also be confirmed at SEHO. „Our employees tell us about their work routine, which we ultimately see in the results,” says Moritz Reichert, Head of Finance and member of the SEHO management team. “The tasks can be completed more effectively, there is more freedom for personal concerns and a typical work day is generally less stressful with mobile work.“ A prerequisite for a mobile working model is, of course, a large amount of trust at management level, which is placed in the employees working from home, and the motivation on the part of the employee to perform well, even if the working environment is more relaxed. „During the pandemic and the legal obligation to enable home office, we have seen that we have a great and reliable team. Therefore, in addition to the flexible working hours that we have had for many years, we will continue to offer the option of mobile working,” adds Moritz Reichert.
While the commercial departments can benefit from modern forms of work, this is much more difficult for production and production-related areas. A soldering machine or an automation concept cannot be built at home, but requires being present in the company. Employees in these areas are therefore not only less flexible when it comes to their personal needs, but also financially worse off than their colleagues in the commercial areas, especially given the current petrol prices.
„In order to create an advantage for employees from the production-related divisions, we have dealt in detail with the topic of the 4-day week“, explains Larissa Hepp, who is responsible for human resources at SEHO. In addition to labor law issues, it was also necessary to ensure that the personnel costs were not stretched beyond the means. A concept was developed in a team project, which will be launched at SEHO on May 1st for a test phase of initially 3 months. The new working time model provides for a 4-day week for the production area. These departments will then work from Monday to Thursday, Friday to Sunday are free. A rotation system will be introduced for customer-sensitive areas, such as the logistics center, so that deliveries can also be made on Fridays. The weekly working hours are reduced for the employees, with full wage compensation.
„We think – and experience from various European pilot projects suggests this – that we can even improve productivity in our company by taking this step,” says Moritz Reichert. „In some sectors, such as energy costs, the 4-day week also ultimately leads to a reduction in costs. Larissa Hepp adds: “Studies have shown that more days off increase employee motivation, improve health and bind employees more closely to the company. Last but not least, of course, we also hope that we can increase our attractiveness as an employer in the region with modern working models.”
The 4-day week also fits into SEHO’s corporate concept with a view to climate policy goals. The company already obtains 100% of its electricity from hydropower and its own photovoltaic system. Not only with the machines, but also in the operational processes, attention is paid to reducing resources and using sustainable materials, and projects such as “Job-Bicycle” are being implemented, actively promoted by SEHO as an employer. If the employees only have to drive to work on four days instead of five, this also has a positive ecological effect.
„After the 3-month test phase, we will discuss all aspects and experiences together and draw a conclusion. But we approach the 4-day week positively and we are sure that this will give our employees more freedom,” says Markus Walter.