How a 4-day workweek improved one company's recruitment, retention, and morale — and its workers' well-being
- Samantha Losey is the director of a PR firm that's participating in a four-day-workweek pilot.
- Losey said that, after a bumpy transition, the new schedule has been nothing short of a revelation.
For Samantha Losey, the managing director of Unity, a public-relations firm in London, it was her team's late-stage pandemic burnout that convinced her something had to give. Working relentlessly wasn't sustainable for people.
Around that time, she read a book about the promise of the four-day workweek. Perhaps an alternative to the Monday-through-Friday grind was in reach.
Thus began her company's participation in a six-month pilot program of a four-day workweek. The program, launched in June, involves more than 3,300 employees across the UK who are working 80% of their usual hours for 100% of their pay.
Losey told Insider that productivity hasn't missed a beat, morale is up, and employees are happier and less stressed. "It's worked incredibly for us," Losey said.
Other companies are having similar success. Preliminary results from the pilot program suggest the new schedule is working well for businesses: In a survey of 41 participating companies conducted this fall, 86% said they'd be "likely" or "extremely likely" to consider keeping a four-day workweek after the pilot.
Unity has already decided to make it permanent. Meanwhile, the consumer goods giant Unilever said this week that it would expand its trial of a four-day workweek to Australian employees after a successful 18-month pilot in New Zealand.
At a time when workers around the world are recalibrating their relationships with their jobs and companies are grasping at what the postpandemic future of work holds, Losey's experience at Unity is an illuminating case study. Insider recently spoke with her about the four-day workweek's effects on the company's retention and recruitment and on the team's health and well-being.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Was it hard in the beginning for your team to adjust to the new schedule?
We'd thought through a lot of different things, we'd put different processes in place, but the reality is we work in a fast-paced industry. You have to be on all of the time, and we hadn't properly understood how handovers would work.
We run Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday. So you've only got a full team three days of the week. It's really challenging to get in the right rhythm and to get people thinking about productivity in a different way and respecting each other's time.
So how did you do that?
We cut internal meetings down to five minutes. The most you can have is 15 minutes, and if there's not an agenda you can't have it.
We cut all client meetings down to 30 minutes, which clients absolutely love. Turns out they don't like having their time wasted any better than anybody else.
And we implemented a button system, which puts you into three modes. If your light is red, you're heads-down: Don't interrupt me. If you're amber, you can interrupt me, but I'm quite busy, so only if it's urgent. And then if your light is green, it's: Come talk to me. I'm open.
Are people really able to accomplish in four days what they used to in five?
Yes, absolutely. I can categorically say that we've not dropped anything. We're not producing less. We haven't lost a client. The team is so focused on wanting and having that fifth day for themselves that they work harder — but not longer — in those four days.
What changes have you seen in your employees' mental health?
We have a happiness index that we use as a business to measure people's well-being and stress. And so we have tangible numbers that show people's mental health has benefited.
Also, anecdotally, when I ask people, "How are you feeling?" I hear "I don't get the Sunday scaries anymore" or "I don't feel stressed."
Our group CEO came into the office a few weeks ago, and he said to me: "What's going on with your team? They've got so much energy, they're so buzzy." And I was like, "It's the four-day week."
Have you seen an effect on retention?
We haven't lost anyone, but we tend to have a pretty good retention rate. The bigger effect has been on recruitment. At the beginning of this year, we struggled to find candidates of the quality we were looking for. And then about six weeks into the trial, I started getting proactive CV submissions from people who were interested in working in that sort of environment and interested in understanding our culture better. That's been a mega-shift which I could never have anticipated.
Do you worry that because the team has had an incentive to make the new schedule work that buzziness will wear off once it gets made permanent?
I do. I really worry about it. It's actually my biggest concern.
What's your advice to other firms considering adopting a four-day workweek?
It's a messy situation at the beginning, but you have to persevere because it's worth it. When you see the value and the impact on your people and the way that their spark comes back — that's powerful to see.
The other thing that this has done is banded the team together in a whole other way. They are so much closer. They have each other's back so much more, and they're trying to make it work for each other as much as for themselves.
Yes, it comes with complications. But the value of it in terms of retention, recruitment, and health and well-being cannot be overstated.
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