Lessons Learned from 12 Months of the Four Day Work Week

12 months on since implementing a four-day work week, it’s promising to see that productivity is up and sick days are down, but it’s also important to acknowledge there have been challenges in rolling out the initiative.

We introduced a four-day work week for eligible staff last May, building up from offering staff one extra day off a month, to a nine-day fortnight and then dropping to four days a week.

We follow the 100-80-100 model, with staff receiving 100% of pay, for 80% time at work, and 100% productivity.

A year on, productivity and output targets are being met and almost every operational metric is trending higher.

Added to that, the total number of sick days taken is down, which highlights that business productivity hasn’t been negatively impacted.

Clients are also still receiving the same high-level service and communication, which to us was always going to be part of the measurement of success.

When we first started seriously considering the idea of a shorter working week, we were looking at ways of better supporting staff well-being and their work-life balance.

We also wanted to continue to attract and retain staff in a tight labour market that wasn’t simply about more money.

The roll-out of the initiative hasn’t been without teething problems, however it’s offered fresh opportunities to rethink how the company operates, and where improvements might be made.

As an example, we quickly learned it couldn’t be a one size fits all approach to how the days off worked, particularly in an industry such as ours that effectively operates 24/7.

We’ve since moved to let individual departments decide what works best for them, based on workloads and what happens day-to-day.

We’ve also got a greater appreciation for time now that we effectively have less of it and make better use of it through shorter and more efficient meetings, for example.

For those companies who might also be considering a four-day week, I offer this advice;

  • Be Flexible: We found a one-size fits all approach wasn’t working in the best interests of the business or staff. Having a flexible approach to the way the initiative was implemented across different departments has been vital.
  • Start Small: We didn’t suddenly go from working five days one week to four the next, but rather we built it up slowly over time starting with an extra day off a month, then a nine-day fortnight and ultimately the four-day week. It gave time for staff to identify potential roadblocks and develop solutions to ensure the business was able to continue to operate five days a week without interruption.
  • Be Open to New Ideas: This is critical to success. We had to look at the way we do things, and ask ourselves could we do it differently? We’ve had to develop different solutions and think outside the square.
  • Look for Business Efficiencies: Work smarter, not harder. Emails instead of meetings, cross-training staff to have adequate backup, and making better use of technology are just some examples of the way we’ve made the business operate more efficiently.

The four-day work has also improved my skills as a business leader, as I’ve been able to lead from the top in terms of the kind of culture I want for our staff.

Using that extra day to get into the gym a bit more, take the kids to school – it’s not ground-breaking stuff, but it makes such a difference to my life overall. I want the team to see that these things are important too, life is so much more than work.

Yes, it’s been a bit tricky to implement a four-day week, but that’s because we’re trying something new, and we had nothing to base it on. Hopefully we’re learning lessons that will make it easier for the next company to implement, and the one after that, and then one day this won’t be unusual at all.