So how did we get some crazy talented engineers and team members to join us? To be perfectly transparent, maximizing their financial compensation packages was not our primary focus. Among the plethora of tools available to attract talent, I am always amazed how much emphasis is placed on financial compensation, whether it be salary, equity or performance bonuses. I am not saying that fair and transparent financial compensation is not needed. In fact, it should be expected. But I wonder how the working world missed the adage that financial rewards neither foster commitment nor promote positive creativity. Financial rewards have shown to only temporarily change behavior (to meet short-term goals) but do not help companies build agile, thriving teams. Pay/compensation usually ranks 5th or 6th on lists of what matters most to employees.
During interviews with potential candidates for our company, nearly all were seeking something different and believed that our ethos is precisely what they were looking for. People come to our company craving workplace flexibility and “work-life balance”, not because they want to take advantage of it, but because they would like to contribute to it. A place to work productively, with integrity and their well-being at the center of what they do and why they do it.
Why a 4-Day Workweek?
We implemented a 4-day workweek (32 hours at full-time) from the very beginning. Why? Because burnout is real, and our employees NEED to have tangible time outside of work. Many of our team have family responsibilities, in addition to their own lives. We believe that one tool to help them achieve balance in their lives is 72 hours of continuous free time to accomplish what they need to and still have time for their own well-being.
We do NOT want our team available to us 24/7. That is NOT okay!
The loudest argument against the 4-day (32 hr) week is that productivity will never reach that of a 5-day (40 hr) week. Please let me digress for a moment, as we take this opportunity to jump down the Parkinson’s Law rabbit hole.
This observation can be boiled down to “work expands to fill the time available”. So if work expands to fill the time we have for it, time is not a constant that is continually “refilled with more new work” as soon as a task is completed. Rather, we expand the time needed for a given task based on the time available. If there is less time available, the task can still be completed, as it will not expand as far to fill the less time available.
Okay… now returning to the research: the 4-day week has shown not to reduce company productivity.
The next argument against the 4-day week can be boiled down to: this cannot work for all industries. I even read on a LinkedIn post, a commentator said that the 4-day week is only for the privileged desk workers or bougie tech engineers working remotely. People in various service industries, retail or even healthcare could not possibly accommodate it. (The commenter completed his argument with that he hates vacations and only likes to work, but I digress, again.)
My question is: Why not? The hospitality and retail industries have been relying on flexible employees and staggered scheduling for decades. Perhaps it is time that these industries remind the corporate world how workplace flexibility is still possible. A related argument concludes that the 4-day week is impossible due to the widespread staffing shortages experienced across nearly all service industries. I would answer this concern with a question: why do you think certain professions (read here, healthcare) have staffing shortages? The burnout rate for healthcare employees is among the highest. When we start being reasonable about what people should be expected to accomplish during their working hours and start truly taking care of the people who take care of business, industries will attract the staff they need.
A final understandable argument is: accommodating a 4-day week will most certainly increase staffing costs. My answer: what if the 4-day week was an actual magic bullet to help companies significantly reduce one of their larger expenses, voluntary turnover (people quitting)? Gallup estimated that voluntary turnover costs US businesses 1 trillion USD per year. To replace a single employee can cost the company from 1.5 to 2 times their annual salary! Not only are companies losing that individual’s productivity, but also their knowledge and experience. That is a wildly expensive price to pay, and appears to be completely self-inflicted. If the 4-day week boosts employee satisfaction, voluntary turnover will decline. MRL consulting experienced a 95% retention rate during its trial with the 4-day week. If a company could reinvest what would normally be spent on replacing employees and instead invest the same money on engaged and motivated employees, wouldn’t that be a great investment in productivity (see above about productivity)?
Granted, a 4-day workweek is not going to solve all the staffing problems facing companies and their teams today. The business world has at least acknowledged that employees across all industries are struggling with burnout, and it is hurting their bottom lines.
Now is the time for companies to reinvent the norms of the workplace and start putting their greatest assets, their employees, first. The 4-day workweek is a studied tool for this task, by improving employee happiness, health and therefore retention rate.
Author: Elizabeth Duck, Chief Operating Officer