Successful examples of the four-day workweek
Still, U.K.-based agencies and marketing companies have found some success in transitioning to a four-day workweek. The pilot program in the U.K.—which ran from June to December 2022 with 61 participating companies and 2,900 workers—saw 56 of the firms extend their four-day week trials and 18 make it permanent.
Of companies in the pilot program, the largest category were marketing and advertising companies (18%), while professional services firms (16%) were second.
An increasing number of advertising companies found that employees are more productive when they have an extra eight hours a week of personal time and, in turn, deliver better results for clients.
Awin Group, a global affiliate marketing platform with 25,000 clients, 1,300 employees and 17 offices worldwide, implemented a permanent four-day workweek in February after finding success with a pilot program it first tested including in the U.S. in 2020. Employees continue to receive full salaries.
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During the pilot program, Awin’s gross profit grew 13% on average annually from 2019 to 2022; clients’ net promoter scores improved by 20.7 points; employee turnover decreased 33%; and workers took 21% fewer sick and leave days, according to the company.
Awin CEO Adam Ross said clients have been receptive and it’s been successful because the company maintains a five-day-a-week business. He said Awin generated approximately $16 billion in revenue in the last financial year for clients in its biggest markets, including the U.S., U.K., Germany and France.
Employees can choose the day they want off each week, so long as they coordinate it with their teams so someone is always on the clock.
“With us being a business that has to support a large volume of customers, and most customers are not operating on a four-day week, one of the prerequisites that we said to everybody was, ‘we have to maintain a five-day service,” Ross said. The company also has “peak weeks,” including around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the busiest times of the year for the firm, during which they ask employees to work five days a week.
Project Worldwide-owned creative communications agency Praytell transitioned to a four-day workweek after an initial trial period in October 2021. The 180-person agency with offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and Sydney and Austin, Texas, gives employees Fridays off, with exceptions.
“By the nature of what we do, it’s never going to be a completely fair system for all employees, all the time,” Praytell Founder and CEO Andy Pray said. “We’ll have client launches or events that make it impossible for all staff to enjoy the day off every single Friday. We're trying to empower folks to, one, feel OK to ask for help if it's a true emergency, and two, feel OK in pushing back on asks that day, professionally and kindly, if they're not urgent.”
How to make it work
It takes a good deal of preparation to make a four-day workweek work, and there are always speed bumps along the way.
Ross said Awin put together an employee task force to figure out how to implement the four-day workweek. The company also regularly surveyed its staff and adjusted every six months, starting from the initial phase of the program in 2020 through February, when the company made it permanent.
One of the early hiccups Awin encountered was people didn’t know the schedules of members of other teams, so requests between various teams would sometimes get lost.
To address that issue, Awin started using the project management tool Asana for streamlining certain tasks, managing schedules, creating rotas and reassigning tasks to other colleagues on the clock when necessary.
Working with parent company Project Worldwide and clients, Pray said, it took two tries to get Praytell’s four-day workweek strategy right.
“We over-engineered it at first,” Pray said. “We had 70% of the agency working Monday through Thursday and 30% working Tuesday through Friday, as we were fearful of Friday being off. But that created problems from the jump, as it sandwiched all meetings into Tuesday through Thursday. It was clear it was off. So then we just ripped the Band-Aid, with the whole agency on a hopeful Monday through Thursday plan.”
Pray said the agency rotates employees to be on call for Fridays to answer urgent client requests. Pray said the agency checked in with employees and clients at the end of the first quarter last year and found 100% of clients and 96% of employees were happy.
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Four-day workweeks also require employers to trust their employees, said Matt Seiler, managing director of industry talent firm Raines International, and ex-CEO of IPG Mediabrands.
“I think old people don’t trust young people,” Seiler said. “And they want them where they can see them. But I also think that creatives in particular have kept all sorts of odd hours. Nobody should care where and when people are working so long as the work is best in class.”
Paul said that The Martin Agency’s program is built on trust and that it expects employees to manage their workloads appropriately to prepare for a three-day weekend and be available for their clients as needed. She added that their leaders also take the initiative to let clients know ahead of time when the agency is closed and asks them to try to be respectful of that by contacting their teams only with urgent matters—and, for the most part, they have been supportive.
“Getting creative talent motivated and performing for 40 hours a week has always been a challenge at the best of times,” Paull said. “Good ideas don’t care where they come from, and agency creatives are just as likely to have a big idea at 7 a.m. in the shower as they are at 5 p.m. in the office.”
“It’s based on having a relationship with your employees,” Awin’s Ross said. “That is underpinned by trust. And if you don't have that—if you're, you know, you're more of a command and control type culture, top-down type culture—I don't think it's going to work for you."