Four-day week unrealistic in fluctuating mortgage market

The ultimate work dream of a four-day working week is looking ever closer to becoming a reality – for some at least.

From June to December 2022, more than 70 UK companies are trialling a four-day working week.

The ‘new’ way of working will see over 3,300 workers receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their usual working hours, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity.

The idea behind the scheme is to improve staff wellbeing and productivity. A Henley Business School study in 2021 found a four-day week was good for employees’ job satisfaction with 68% of workers saying they would enjoy their work more if they were able to work a four-day week. While 78% of employers who implemented this way of working felt their staff were less stressed at work and reported a boost to productivity.

I’m sure many workers would jump at the chance to have a permanent three-day weekend and the opportunity to spend more time with friends and family.

Most in the current mortgage market however would just settle for a bit more consistency when it comes a very changeable workload.

The last 12 months have produced record business volumes and while this is welcome, it can at times create an all-or-nothing scenario.

As the market continues to grapple with short-notice product withdrawals, it is affecting everyone in the chain from buyers, advisers, underwriters, conveyancers, and surveyors.

The current trend for lenders taking on a large tranche of business and then effectively withdrawing from the market means others in the chain at times must also work in this stop/start manner.

Like most businesses working in the mortgage market, we are finding quite significant variations between our peak days and our quieter ones – a trend I expect will continue for most of the year.

While peaks and troughs are to be expected in any sector, the current situation is creating some extreme irregular working patterns and we have seen some advisers having to stay up until the midnight hours to secure mortgage deals.

We have been here before and some of us will remember the days when advisers had to telephone up lenders – usually at midnight – to book client funds for the following day and then have 48 hours to submit their case.

While it is inevitable mortgage demand will start to slow down at some point, we will assuredly find ourselves in the same predicament again in the future.

There is no easy solution to the current problem but in a digital age surely, there must be a better way? A lack of resources can be partially blamed for some of the issues but given the sometimes unpredictable nature of the market, it is understandable why lenders are reluctant to recruit to meet some of the recent market highs.

Nevertheless, if the industry is to continue to recruit new talent, we can’t lose sight of how we operate.

Covid has made many revaluate their work/life balance and advisers having to stay up well into the night doesn’t sit well with this.

With an increasing focus on mental health within our industry, we need to be conscious of our ways of working.

In the current setting, if advisers and others in the property chain want to ensure their client’s mortgage deal progresses, many feel the need to be personally on standby – which unfortunately, for our sector, makes a four-day week still a pipedream for most.

Simon Jackson is managing director of SDL Surveying 

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