ITL #532   The future of work: improving work-life balance through a four-day work week

1 year ago

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Investing in the wellbeing and happiness of your team translates into benefits for both employees and clients. By Matt Juniper.



The way we work is changing. There is a growing movement to explore how and where we work, when we work, and the way our work impacts our health and wellbeing. Employers are offering a variety of enticing work arrangements and environments such as remote or hybrid office, flexible hours, unlimited vacation and a four-day work week, in order to attract and retain a talented team.

 

But can a four-day work week really succeed? In an industry where it is critical to be available to respond to rapidly shifting media cycles and demands of clients and stakeholders, many have expressed skepticism that this movement can work for public relations and marketing professionals. However, I am pleased to report that a carefully thought-out shift to reduced worktime scenarios is not only possible but can help public relations professionals thrive.

 

First and foremost, there is a growing body of research that suggests that a four-day work week results in happier employees with improved physical and mental health, and higher levels of job satisfaction. This provides the opportunity for a more energized and productive team, with heightened creativity and sharpened problem-solving skills, ready to bring the best of themselves to their client work. This alone made the proposition of a four-day week appealing, but as an agency that has a reputation for best-in-class client service, I knew we needed to ensure we could maintain or exceed the standards our clients expected of us.

 

Piloting a four-day week

It was with this in mind that our Toronto-based marketing communications agency, PRAXIS, joined a global pilot to test the viability of a four-day work week. The six-month pilot program, coordinated by non-profit 4 Day Week Global, followed the 100-80-100TM model, which advocates for 100% of the pay, working 80% of the time, with a commitment to maintaining 100% productivity.

 

A healthy work-life balance has always been an important part of our culture, and a challenge due to the nature of agency life. The goal was not to condense the work into four, 10-hour days, but to learn new strategies to improve time management, productivity, and efficiency that would allow for a shorter week.

 

We chose to participate in the four-day week pilot as an investment in the wellbeing and happiness of our employees, and as a business improvement strategy, focused on working smarter rather than longer, recruiting the top talent in the industry and maintaining the highest standard of client service. We shifted our focus from measuring based on hours worked toward measuring based on results.

 

Preparing for change

For months leading up to the pilot we worked extensively to research, plan and prepare for a seamless transition. We knew that excellent communication both internally within our team and with clients and other partners and stakeholders would be critical for success. We met with our clients individually to explain what the four-day week pilot was and how it would or would not impact their business. Our plan included adopting a “Friday/Monday” model, meaning that half our staff takes a ‘rest day’ on Fridays, while the other half is away on Monday. There are many potential models for a four-day week and there is no one size fits all solution; however this model was critical for us to ensure that someone is always available and ready to meet client needs and deliverables and to be available should an issue arise.

 

Internally, we established a four-day week committee with staff from all levels of the business to provide feedback and answer questions from the greater team. We conducted client and employee surveys at key touchpoints so that we could track and measure our own results from the pilot. Our team also participated in several training sessions, consulting with experts around the world, to build and develop skills to increase productivity and efficiency and improve the way we collaborate.

 

Setting up for success

One of the biggest challenges we faced was around time management. How could we condense an already busy five-day, 40-hour week into a four-day, 32-hour week? Developing strategies to improve personal time management, reduce the number of meetings and improve the quality/focus of required meetings, and improve employee collaboration, was essential.

 

Some of the strategies we’ve employed include:

 

  • Blocking time in our calendars to complete specific tasks the way we would schedule a meeting.
  • Starting with harder to do list tasks, or tasks perceived as being complicated first.
  • Making sure every meeting has a clear agenda, understanding who is required to attend and not automatically defaulting to 30 or 60 minutes. 
  • No multitasking. Your brain is actually switching between tasks and taking time to refocus, slowing you down in ways you may not realize.

 

What we’ve learned

Our six-month pilot with 4 Day Week Global ended in March and we are awaiting results from data collected by the research partners at Boston College. As part of our own internal research, we have been analyzing data collected from our staff and client surveys and time tracking software and other tools. To date, the results make a strong case for continuing with the four-day week model and we have decided to extend our four-day week trial while we continue to evaluate.

 

Feedback from our clients has been very positive and they are supportive of our commitment to provide a healthy and balanced work environment for our employees. Our team has reported higher job satisfaction, increased time spent with family & friends, and increased time participating in physical activity and improved mental health. As a company, we have seen our business and client base continue to grow throughout the trial and found efficiencies in areas like reducing internal meeting time and streamlining some of our internal processes.

 

While the response to our trial has been overwhelmingly positive, there have also been some challenges to work through. We have come together as a team to identify and problem solve for issues such as barriers to rest-day participation. We recently made a switch so that team members who took their rest day on Friday now take their day on Monday and vice versa in order to understand if the day of the week impacts ability to participate. An important part of the transition has been flexibility and the understanding that because we are a client-focused business, the four-day week may look slightly different from person to person and week to week, given current projects.

 

Looking forward

We are excited to see the published results from the global pilot study and look forward to sharing them in the coming months. Interest in the four-day work week continues to grow as evidenced by the increasing media coverage and the invitations we receive to speak and share our experiences. We are proud to be leaders in our industry who are innovative in the way people work, and we will continue to look for new opportunities to show we value both our employees and our clients.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Author

Matt Juniper

Matt Juniper, Partner, PRAXIS.

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