A six-month trial of the four-day working week has kicked off in England, following a similar test run that took place in Scotland last year. The trial will see a number of firms adopting the four-day week, but keeping employees at the same rate of pay in a bid to boost morale, increase productivity and recruit and retain better talent.
The Covid-19 pandemic already triggered a major overhaul of traditional working models, in many cases for the better, with plenty of agencies using it as a springboard to make big changes they’d previously shied away from.
Amid the ‘Great Resignation,’ more and more firms are having to think seriously about how they’ll move working practices and patterns into the future. So as 30 businesses across England trial a shorter working week, The Drum sits down with agencies that were early adopters to hear how their experiences have been.
Paul Bailey is strategy director at Halo, a creative agency based in Bristol. He says that the indie hadn’t anticipated implementing a four-day week, but did so out of necessity at the start of the pandemic.
He says Halo opted to drop people down to a four-day week in lieu of placing them on furlough, which allowed it to retain the full team. “It also became clear people really benefited from the extra day off. We didn’t see any drop in productivity, and it proved useful to many people to have that extra day at the weekend to do things they enjoy.”
Bailey explains that when the bulk of Halo’s work returned following Covid, the team returned for an extra half day on Friday, with their salaries reinstated to their pre-pandemic levels. This allowed them to cover the increase in workload, and meant the company was able to reimburse them for the pay they lost during Covid.
Now Halo operates a four-and-a-half-day week, with everyone finishing up on a Friday lunchtime. “We thought, realistically, how much work do people actually get done on a Friday afternoon anyway?” says Bailey. It hopes that as time goes on, it will be able to drop staff back down to the full four days.
Halo also works closely with a local animal charity, and the option for employees to spend their free Friday afternoons working there is always available. “We normally have at least two people helping out there every week, so overall it was a trial that proved very successful,” Bailey concludes.
Punch Creative is based in Leeds, and it also adopted a four-day week at the start of the pandemic. Commercial director Louise Wright says it was something it had considered before “but the pandemic gave us the chance to make some bold moves.”
“We had a real chance during the pandemic to think over how we operate our business and what kind of employer we wanted to be. We wanted our team to feel well-rested every week and that would bring greater productivity and creativeness. Everyone gets to do a bit more of what they love outside work.”
Wright explains that upon implementing the four-day week, the team saw massive internal shifts in agility and productivity. “Our internal and external meetings were shorter and more productive on teams so we gained more time on actual project work.”
Overall, she says Punch now has “very low staff turnover, a much better talent pipeline, and a culture we can be really proud of and clients who respect that.”
Gloucestershire-based PR firm Radioactive was an early adopter of the four-day week, first shifting in 2018. “Back then we got a lot of coverage, as we were one of the first PR and marketing agencies to really take it on,” explains Rich Leigh, the agency’s founder and director.
“Our mantra has always been ‘a happy team doing great work with happy clients,’ and that really starts with the team. If they’re happy then they’ll do great work,” he says.
And he has the graphs to prove it. A year after initiating the four-day week, turnover was up by 70%, gross and net profit was largely the same (if not a little higher), new business increased, recruitment improved and sick days dropped dramatically.
“It also meant that when the pandemic hit, we were already pretty well set up to work from home.”
Like Halo, Radioactive has now put its staff back up to four-and-a-half days in a bid to cover some of the ground lost during the worst of the pandemic. “I was hesitant initially to ask this of the team,” explains Leight, “but my hope is that we will return to the four-day week as soon as possible.”
However, the agency currently takes a full Friday off every month – time that is spent working with a local charity organization, which “allows us to use our collective time for good,” Leigh concludes.