So you’ve decided to implement a 4-day work week. Now what?

In early 2022, business was booming for digital publisher Alpha Brand Media, and staff were struggling to keep up with demand.

“We were going through classic growth pains, requiring the company to evolve infrastructure, workflows, processes and policies, and that was quite disruptive,” CEO Jenise Uehara recalls. “It was chaos, honestly, and we started losing people – people who were with us for a long time – and it hurts.”

The fully remote company of 34 was hiring as fast as it could, but finding staff was a challenge, and there was little time and energy left to onboard and train them. Instead, Uehara adopted a solution that she admits seemed counter-intuitive at first. Last summer, Alpha Brand Media implemented Summer Fridays, giving staff an extra day off every two weeks, and in October began operating on a four-day, 32-hour schedule.

“When I started to take a closer look at it, I realized that it really was an operational excellence initiative in disguise that motivates your employees – a carrot – to make the process changes they know ineffective,” she said.

Preparation is key

Before changing the schedule, Uehara engaged its staff in a ruthless campaign to reduce waste and improve productivity. During this period, staff members, with the support of a multi-disciplinary working group of non-executive employees, have found both obvious and new ways to improve efficiency, ranging from reducing meetings to lower approval levels.

“Every meeting should have an agenda, every person should have a role, and it should be okay for people to say, ‘Let’s cut this shorter’ or ‘I don’t need to be here,'” says -She. . “It’s becoming accepted practice because otherwise nobody wants to say to their boss or a meeting planner, ‘I don’t think I need to be here.'”

After learning that some employees spend a lot of time catching up on messages and emails from Slack in case one needs their immediate attention, the team designated WhatsApp as the only platform for emergencies. , allowing staff to ignore all other notifications while working.

“If we expected our employees to work five out of four days, I would expect them to fail, and taking a 20% discount on our production or revenue was a failure because the company would fail,” Uehara said. “So how do we get there? You watch how and where people spend their time, and I bet it’s not always used in the most efficient way.

Six months after launching a four-day-a-week trial, Alpha Brand Media, along with each of the 41 companies that participated in the same North American pilot program, decided to make the change permanent. According to Uehara, the key to this success lay in the months of planning, research and consultations leading up to it.

Further proof of the benefits of a four-day work week

According to 4 Day Week Global, which ran the program, and researchers from Boston College who studied the results, participants experienced a range of benefits, from better mental and physical health to reduced blood pressure. absenteeism and an average increase of 15% in their income. The results echoed those of earlier trials conducted in the UK, Europe and Australasia, and when researchers returned to global participants after 12 months, most of these benefits remained.

“For companies, their turnover has increased; their sick days, personal days and absenteeism have been reduced; and their turnover was also reduced,” says Wen Fan, associate professor in the sociology department at Boston College, who participated in the research. “The results for employees are just as exciting, and you’re seeing a lot of positive change.” Wen notes that employee burnout has been reduced, leading to lower stress levels and improvements in physical and mental health, life satisfaction, and job satisfaction.

Fan adds that most of the benefits remained when researchers returned six months after the initial six-month trial period ended.

“Job satisfaction has gone down when you compare the 6 months to 12 months, but job satisfaction is still significantly higher than before the trial,” she says. “Based on the metrics we asked them about, none of them deteriorated below what they were at the start of the trial, so they’re all still considerably more higher than the reference value.”

Encourage staff to find productivity gains

Improving such a wide range of metrics, including productivity and revenue metrics, by reducing working time might seem counter-intuitive, but experts suggest the four-day week is effective because it incentivizes staff to participate in productivity improvement initiatives.

“It’s not like flicking a light switch; you have to figure out how you’re going to make it work operationally before you introduce the policy,” says Joe O’Connor, who led this process as the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global, before co-founding the Work Time. Reduction Center of Excellence. “This two to three month prep period involves a number of workshops – we’ve run about eight or nine of them – to help companies manage time, productivity, prioritization, measurement, giving them access resources and key principles and practices for doing this work.”

Participants were also assigned mentors from organizations in the same or similar industries that had already transitioned, as well as other trial participants, to share best practices.

“I wouldn’t say that reducing work time leads to this automatic 15%, 20%, 25% increase in productivity – it just doesn’t,” says O’Connor. “It requires collectively rethinking the structural issues around how you meet, how you collaborate, how you communicate, how you serve your customers. It’s really about changing the way you work, not just the number of hours you work.

Dale Whelehan, current CEO of 4 Day Week Global, says what makes this approach to productivity improvement more effective than most is a key ingredient: enthusiastic employee engagement. He suggests that when employees share in the benefits of efficiencies, they can find enough to cut hours while increasing production.

“You’re basically tapping into what a lot of business and management leaders have been saying for years about Agile ways of working and Lean ways of working, and the need to streamline,” Whelehan says. “We’ve been talking about Six Sigma and all of those things for years, but they haven’t been able to apply them effectively because there’s been a gradual erosion of the relationship between worker and employer.”

Whelehan adds: “Why would the worker decide to work more efficiently if he only gets more work in return? This establishes a new contract.

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