7 CEOs and Business Owners Discuss the 4-Day Workweek
Now might be the perfect time for companies to experiment.
As technology advances and our understanding of employee engagement improves, business leaders are faced with newer and more compelling ways of shaking up their organizations. For some companies, this will mean adapting their performance management processes to do away with annual appraisals. For others, it will mean streamlining needlessly complex processes. But one trend that is really taking the world by storm and inviting a serious amount of media coverage is that of the four-day work week.
Perhaps it is prime time for this radical change -- after all, the concept of the nine-to-five work day and five-day work week is something that hasn't changed much since the Industrial Revolution. It has been shown that it is now more possible than ever to implement a four-day work week, with some companies introducing it over concerns relating to stress and burnout. There is even political interest in the concept, with the Green Party manifesto pledging a four-day work week. With promising candidates and top talent calling out for increased flexibility, now might be the perfect time for companies to experiment.
To get to grips with the reality of the four-day work week and how it can be introduced to the average business, I discussed the concept with seven CEOs and business owners who have made the leap. These experts shared their reasons for shaking up the status quo, how the change has impacted their businesses, and the effect it has had on recruitment and retention.
Our experts include:
- Stephen Titchener, creative director of Two Guys Creative
- Katie Henry, director of Art in Offices
- Leah Ryz, UX guru and founder of Leah Ryz
- Rochelle White, creative director of Rochelle White PR
- Ajit Nawalkha, founder and CEO of Evercoach and co-founder of Mindvalley
- Elena Kerrigan, managing director of Think Productive, and;
- Tim Cameron-Kitchen, CEO and founder of Exposure NInja
Why make use of a four-day work week?
While discussing the motivation behind the introduction of the four-day work week, it became clear that the underlying reason for such flexibility was a deep appreciation for rest and work-life balance. This makes sense when you consider how important work-life balance is to employee morale, engagement and overall performance. If an employee isn't satisfied with life at home, this will more than likely spill over into their work life, causing productivity and disengagement issues that are hard to resolve.
Katie Henry, director of Art in Offices, incorporated flexible working into her company following a tumultuous time in her life. At one time, she was a carer for a sick parent, a new mother and wife to a husband with erratic working patterns. She knew that other people would also need what she required -- an understanding and flexible working environment.
"[Shorter weeks] take the pressure off," Henry explained. "When you've got a lot of other pressures, taking rigid working hours away makes things much easier for staff. You can see from the quality of work they produce that their productivity levels improve when they can work on their own terms."
Of course, four-day work weeks also give employees the chance to recharge. Rochelle White's PR agency is introducing four-day work weeks in 2019, after discovering that her team generally performed better after a break.
"Over the past year, we have found that the most productive days for us are Monday through Wednesday. We are all really focused at the start of the week, so we have decided to make a change for 2019."
Elena Kerrigan at ThinkProductive, meanwhile, introduced a four-day work week in 2011 and it has been serving her company well:
"Initially, we trialed it as a productivity experiment for a month. We wanted to see what would happen if we gave staff the opportunity to work hours that were more suited to their attention and momentum rhythms. Our model is reason agnostic -- what people do with their free time is completely up to them. Those of us who have chosen to do a four-day week work slightly longer days Monday to Thursday (8 hours 50 minutes) and then one Friday in four. This means we work the same hours per year as the team members working a five-day week. This was important to us in terms of maintaining fairness across the team."
Related: Benefits Employees Want Most
What benefits have you noticed since incorporating four-day work weeks?
Organizational change isn't something most managers look forward to -- it can be difficult and time-consuming. You might experience hurdles and complications you never anticipated, but it seems that if you are willing to put in the effort and make a dramatic change -- such as introducing a four-day work week -- the payoffs can be incredibly beneficial.
Stephen Titchener, creative director of Two Guys Creative, enthusiastically stated, "The impact it has had is amazing. Everyone in the office is much happier and we get a lot more work done because of it. There are no afternoon slumps or Monday blues because it gives people a chance to recharge and live their lives. They are better rested and enjoy coming to work more."
This is a popular sentiment among the remainder of our experts. As Rochelle White's company prepares for the introduction of four-day work weeks, she stated, "We feel it will make us much more productive, improve our focus and make us more determined to work better for clients." Likewise, Elena Kerrigan explained that, "In terms of enthusiasm for my work, personally, I am more motivated by my work when it doesn't feel like it is dominating my life and I have the space to fully disconnect. A three-day weekend does just that."
Leah Ryz said she believes a shorter work week actually spurs employees on to get more accomplished.
"I believe a four-day working week allows you to recuperate and recharge your batteries. It also makes you more disciplined, because you have more to do in a shorter period of time, so procrastination or willing the end of the week to arrive is not an option, which I know many employees end up doing," she said.
Meanwhile, Ajit Nawalkha, founder of Evercoach, really gets to the heart of the matter as he discussed quality over quantity, asserting that fewer working hours spur him on to be more productive and creative, so that in the long run his team gets far more done.
Related: 10 Hacks for Hard-to-Fill Roles
Does your company embrace other forms of flexible working?
Flexibility is at the heart of the concept of the four-day work week, so it's unsurprising that for many CEOs, this one approach alone is not enough.
"We go one step further at Exposure Ninja," explained Tim Cameron-Kitchen. "We allocate monthly hours, but we then take a step back and allow employees to decide when they want to work them. If they so choose, they can complete all their work on Monday through Wednesday, thereby creating a four-day weekend. If, on the other hand, they choose to work seven short days a week, that's OK with us, too. All we ask is that our employees are refreshed and eager to work while producing great results. This degree of flexibility means our ranks are filled with content, loyal and engaged employees."
This is a progressive philosophy shared by Ajit Nawalkha. It emphasizes the importance of allowing employees to work with their productivity rhythms, so that they can give work their best. "Our employees can choose when they work. Some people are morning people, some people are night people. What we also found is when we give people flexibility, their availability increases in times of emergency. … They understand that sometimes a company emergency occurs and at these times they become more available because they can see how much care the company is giving to them. We believe that in modern times, caring about the employees is one of the most important things to ensure [they] stick around and remain aligned with the company mission," he said.
Elena Kerrigan has built flexibility into her company culture, stating that "flexibility, or agile working, is part of our cultural DNA. When staff have moved cities or countries, we stayed flexible to their needs and developed our own remote working policy. We offer flexible start and end times for the larks and owls on the team. We've found that when people feel respected and are shown consideration, they tend to not take advantage of this flexibility. We all benefit from being part of this amazingly supportive team and culture of trust."
Likewise, Katie Henry has tried to shift focus from working hours entirely, choosing instead to focus on goal achievement. In this way, growing SMEs like Art in Offices are replicating processes seen in companies such as Netflix, which doesn't track employee hours at all but rather bases performance on goal completion.
To make this system work, Katie and her team need to ensure great levels of communication and collaboration at all times. So while Henry doesn't insist on set working days or predetermined hours, she meets with each member of staff so that they can roughly agree when they will be at the office. This means that Henry is able to easily plan meetings, work research trips and studio visits.
"However, staff are allowed to change the days they work at very short notice if they have life admin they need to get done or emergencies to deal with. Ultimately, I don't mind when or how things get done, as long as they get done," she said.
The flexibility involved and the fact that employees are permitted to work remotely on occasion means that the Art in Offices team needs to be up to date with modern technology, such as collaboration software.
Katie continued, "Our entire filing system is on the Cloud, we have meetings via Skype, we keep track of ideas and communications for each project using Slack, and our CRM software (which also tracks our project tasks) is on the cloud. Banking and finance can be done through apps, marketing can be done from iPads and laptops, [and] large files can be transferred through apps. With all this technology, there's really no reason why people can't work as effectively from home as they do from the office."
The four-day work weeks as a recruitment tool.
Flexibility is a top workplace perk, and one that is guaranteed to attract top talent. Interestingly, though, opinion is divided on whether an option of a four-day work week should be touted as a recruitment benefit.
Katie Henry is unafraid to use flexible working as a recruitment perk: "We definitely promote the fact that work can be done flexibly because we want to attract the best talent. I'm also aware from a female perspective that women want careers but also want to be at home with their families. They shouldn't have to choose between the two. The number of women being sacked for being pregnant is on the rise, which is a travesty and feels really unlawful. My aim with Art in Offices is to enable people to do their best work on their own terms."
Likewise, Tim Cameron-Kitchen proudly uses it to recruit employees: "We make sure our prospective employees know all about our flexible working environment, as we see it as a huge selling point and, in the past, it has attracted some amazing candidates who have really helped to grow the company."
Meanwhile, Stephen Titchener is less eager to open with flexible working as a recruitment perk. Despite the fact that flexibility is at the heart of how Two Guys operates, Titchener said they refrain from mentioning these perks while advertising jobs -- this is because they want to find the right person for the job, not someone who is simply keen to work fewer days.
Are four-day work weeks the way of the future?
While all of the CEOs and business leaders I spoke to are passionate about the four-day work week, they also acknowledged that it isn't a silver bullet. Interestingly, Henry, as a proponent of complete flexibility, said she believes that the four-day workweek doesn't go far enough:
"You need to give [your employees] the option of working around life's little emergencies and still be able to meet that deadline, without them feeling judged or feeling like they've underachieved. Empowering staff like this makes them feel less stressed, less anxious, more satisfied in their job, and happy. Why wouldn't you want a happy workforce?"
Meanwhile, Elena Kerrigan argued, "I believe the four-day week and other forms of flexible working are the future. Technology is already enabling forward-thinking companies to adopt this new way of work. I believe future generations looking back will struggle to understand how we accepted this permanent state of stress and information overload, long hours and ridiculous expectations, with little or no regard for people's health, wellbeing or happiness."
Leah Ryz wholeheartedly agreed: "I think humanizing business is the way of the future. And if that were to mean that four-day, three-day or two-day working weeks meant that businesses were able to meet their objectives by [having] employees who were enjoying a better work-life balance, than that can only be a great thing."
While nobody is saying that shifting to a four-day work week will be easy, or that it will cure all your company's ills, it is certainly a concept worth considering. You became a CEO by taking chances, experimenting and stretching yourself. It only makes sense that as you look to the future, you question everything about how your company runs. You might just find it to be the catalyst to greater levels of corporate success.
Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review, a performance management software solution that enhances overall productivity and performance on an individual, team and company level.
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