The four-day work week: tips for a smooth transition

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Earlier this month, the TUC called for a four-day working week. But can businesses realistically make this transition? Jade Beddington, Senior Account Director at Radioactive PR, tells the story of how the agency she works for has reduced its working days without cutting pay – something that was put into play just before the TUC called for a longer weekend.

Having more free time and a better work-life balance is often high up on the wish list for full-time workers, but this isn’t always compatible with their hours. The reality is that people want to enjoy everything a full-time career brings, as well as earning a wage to reflect that.

Given that our business is in PR, it is a fast-paced game and no day is ever the same. We must always be ‘on’ for clients, even when it’s not during office hours – at one end of the scale if a media opportunity comes in (i.e. a national newspaper wants to interview a client) or at the other, if a client is in crisis and really needs our support.

Add to that the fact that part of a PR person’s job is being on top of the media agenda enough that we can ‘react’ to any news relevant to our clients.

Employers who look after their staff retain them better and get the best pick of the talent pool when recruiting.

Whether it’s PR, marketing or advertising, what’s typical of agencies – and that of many other businesses – is that people will work much longer hours even if they’re not required to, as either they think it’s essential in order to make a good impression or that it’s expected of them. 

We know that this behaviour, also known as presenteeism (something that our founder Rich Leigh highlighted in this blog when he announced the four-day working week), is neither productive nor a smart way of working.

It’s about working smarter, not harder

It seems the modern workplace, where able (it’s important to remember that not every business nor sector is necessarily capable, and that we’re in a fortunate position) is on the cusp of change.

It is, thankfully, becoming more common for employers to place importance on empathising with employees and their mental health, and understanding they are humans with personal lives too.

A better work-life balance will result in a more productive, relaxed and happier workforce. Happy people sell, deliver and work hard. In our case, as Rich often reminds us – happy staff equals happy clients.

Not only that, employers who look after their staff retain them better and get the best pick of the talent pool when recruiting.

Making the four-day working week happen

With all of this in mind, this is how Radioactive PR’s four-day working week, without cutting staff pay, was born.

It started with a six-week trial across the summer (an interesting test-bed given employees had holidays booked), followed by a review process, where our team and clients were surveyed about how they felt the trial went. This insight helped with the final decision.

The team and I are now enjoying the four-day working week and have been using it to do things we would usually do across a Saturday and Sunday – but of course with more time to do it.

Moving to a four-day week is a big business decision and so you must anticipate how it will affect your customers / clients.

The team have been using their Fridays hanging out with family and friends, baking, going to festivals, spending a weekend away, or developing themselves personally and professionally.

Personally, it’s given me extra time to get my house renovated without having to book off a work day to do it. As a result of a four-day week I am much more relaxed. I feel refreshed and ready to take on the week once Monday comes around.

What the shorter working week has meant for us at Radioactive PR is that we lose 20 per cent of our holidays (when we were working five days we had 25 days holiday, plus bank holidays and our birthday off,) and we get 45 minutes for lunch rather than a full hour.

It’s a happy sacrifice as we are gaining so much more – over 40 days more, in fact.

Tips for transitioning to a four-day working week

If you are a business looking to make that decision and smoothly transition to a four-day working week without cutting pay, here are some things worth considering:

1. Weigh up the pros and cons

Obviously there are a lot of benefits of moving to a four-day week – like boosting team morale and productivity, as well as the positive impact on staff retention and recruitment – but it’s more than likely there will be a few things to consider.

The opportunities and threats should be mapped out, and if the positives outweigh the negatives, like it did for us, then indeed it should be seriously considered.

2. Consider customers or clients

Without our clients, we wouldn’t have a business. Moving to a four-day week is a big business decision and so you must anticipate how it will affect your customers / clients – they will be keen to know if they will still get the same level of service and time from you.

Also business owners must decide what the protocol is if a customer needs to speak to someone out of hours – if that’s not already in place. Our clients still get the same amount of time spent on them individually, because our fees are worked out as £x to work y days on each client per month, as a general rule.

And it’s for us to ensure that time is managed across the days we do have in the office.

We also promise that media opportunities, enquiries and crises will be dealt with as if they happened on a normal work day or a normal weekend day, as can happen, which has helped to assure clients that results and communication won’t be negatively impacted.

3. Understand the financial impact

Moving to a four-day week without cutting pay ultimately means the company will pay for the free extra time it is giving its employees. Is your business in the financial position to roll it out?

4. Help the team to work smarter

To get the work done within four days, rather than five, workloads must be managed effectively and tasks prioritised. The team must be masters of time management to ensure the work is done and good managers of said team will help them to achieve that.

It’s not about forcing five days into four, but keeping closer tabs on productivity.

5. Run a trial and evaluate

If there’s one most important process that helped us to transition to the four-day week smoothly, it’s the trial.

I strongly recommend that any company looking to do the same has one too. Decide on a length of time to run it for and, once it has finished, survey your employees and customers. The learnings will help to make that important decision if the shorter week is viable for your business.

If you’re still unsure after the trial, there’s the option to re-run, perhaps for a longer period – or, perhaps, it’s not right for your business.

About Jade Beddington

Jade Beddington

Jade is Senior Account Director at Radioactive PR. 

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