Taking Fridays off isn’t an extraordinarily new idea. Billionaires Carlos Slim and Larry Page have spoken publicly in support of shorter work weeks since 2014, but the idea has yet to catch on.
At many companies, in the San Francisco Bay area particularly, work perks are very entitlement-focused and thrown at employees like Frisbees -- team happy hours, free gym memberships, a fully stocked kitchen, logo-emblazed hoodies, an in-office ping-pong table. These perks were essentially non-existent a decade ago, but have now become so common that employees actually expect them, lessening their appreciation for them. We often hear company leaders soapbox about employee wellness and providing a work-life balance, but does throwing employees a free gym membership truly promote that?
A recent EY survey revealed that one-third of employees report that managing a work-life balance has become harder than ever. This leaves me to believe that today’s run-of-the-mill incentives do nothing to motivate employees. They simply create expectations (for what?) and waste company money. While several hyper-funded, successful companies go above and beyond to offer something unique -- vacation allowances, college tuition reimbursements and long-term paid parental leave -- only a select few actually give employees a true work-life balance; one that includes more time off.
REI, for example, gives its employees two paid days off a year, called "Yay Days," to enjoy their favorite outside activity. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) takes every other Friday off, coining those "Panda Fridays." We also give our employees every other Friday off -- and we pay them for it. We call it the "18-Day Work Month," and we truly believe it’s the key to a more productive workforce.
People perform at their best when they aren’t forced to confine themselves to pre-set office hours. They stay intensely focused during the normal workweek and come back from a longer weekend feeling more refreshed and alert. As a result, they’re more driven and productive, and most importantly, happier.
So what's the catch?
There may be fear that fewer working days equals fewer days of the company making money, but in the long-term, there are tangible ways it in can positively impact your bottom-line. Take recruiting and retention for example. Recruiting is crucial for attracting top talent. Every leader wants to hire the very best, and the very best candidates are typically those with high aptitudes and significant experience. If you can combine high aptitude with experience, you not only get someone who is exceptional, but someone who has already made the mistakes -- on someone else’s dime -- and learned from them. That’s called wisdom. These candidates are dramatically more productive because they can do something fast and right the first time. I call these people 5x’ers.
Often times, you’ll find 5x’ers who are further along in their careers value their free time even more so than the average employee. They tend to have a spouse, a family and a home, which means more responsibility and a yearning for work-life balance. By offering a flexible schedule with more personal time, you create a magnet for these very individuals. And 5x’er employees translate into stronger culture -- which results in less turnover -- shorter time to train new hires and replacements and less money spent on recruiting. Attrition alone is one of the most expensive costs to a company and one of the hardest to quantify. Imagine how much a company can save by simply increasing retention by 10 percent.
With today’s laundry list of perks, organizations expecting to attract and retain top talent employees need to offer more than what’s expected. They need to differentiate by offering a unique incentive that truly promotes balance and employee happiness -- work flexibility. In doing so, no longer will work-life balance be a ubiquitous, buzzword term, its meaning blurred by its overuse. It’ll be a life in which your employees have control over the amount of time and energy they give to work and the time and energy left for their personal lives. It's an idea I believe we can all get on board with.