There have been many talks about implementing a 4-day work week over the past few years, with no reduction in salaries. It's a tactic that studies have shown could lead to happier and more productive employees and with the world shifting gradually to a hybrid working model, it's something that has been at the forefront of many minds recently.
The success of a 4-day work week experiment in Iceland last year prompted other similar experiments around the globe to improve the mental health and overal morale of employees. So, could 2022 be the year the 4-day work week finally becomes a legitimate alternatve to the 5-day grind?
It can be argued that the 5-day, 9-5 work week is a bit of a hangover from a bygone era of work, one that dates back to at least the 1960s. The world has moved on since then as personal interests have grown and everyone's approach to productivity has shifted considerably.
So a few companies in the UK have tried to adopt a 4-day work week as part of their standard business practice; among these, UK-based branding agency Wonderstuff is a good example.
Today we are learning more about the wonderful summer experiment by the team at Wonderstuff, who all chipped in to tell us more about the first 6 weeks of the experience.
After such an unexpected, difficult year for everyone all over the world, the team at Wonderstuff had been discussing the various challenges they had faced and the lack of free head space they had. We are huge advocates of work/life balance, as are many design agencies, and our team had felt that since the pandemic, these distinct differences had merged. When working from home, when does the working day start? When does it end? Where is the fun?
Having discussed what we could do internally to help our wellbeing, and seeing lots of articles around the 4-day working week idea, we decided to trial it ourselves.
Our team at Wonderstuff have been enjoying a 4-day working week since the start of summer 2021. Two of the main teams that we were inspired by, were the fantastic Fiasco Design and Basecamp, who had already implemented a 4-day working week.
We recognised that once you take work, chores and other life admin into account, we don’t actually get much free time to ourselves. We hoped that this plan would give us the much needed headspace, to benefit our mental health, as well as give us a more productive working week.
How we implemented it
We wanted the 4-day working week to work for both the business and our team. This initiative would hopefully improve our teams mental wellbeing, as well as create a more productive and efficient business model.
We recognised that getting the team ‘on board’ with the idea, and seeing the benefits of giving themselves mental headspace on their extra day off, was very important. Our team very quickly understood that we all have to work together, and this had to work for the business for it to be a success.
We managed the days off flexibly, letting our employees book their day off a week in advance and we weren’t strict on which day they should take. Some of our team were guided by the weather as to which day they would take off (paddleboarding usually), others worked around their loved ones working week, and others often bolted the extra day onto a weekend, taking off a Monday or Friday to make their weekend longer (trip to London anyone?).
Setting parameters was the first step to this initiative being a success. It was important that our employees understood these, so that the initiative didn’t manipulated, and treat the extra day-off the same as they would a usual holiday or annual leave.
The main stipulation was that clients always come first. This meant that we must work around client meetings, calls or visits, rather than move meetings to fit in our day-off.
This initiative must not affect our clients.
Another stipulation was that this needed to work for the business, therefore if there was an emergency or a deadline looming, we needed to be able to jump on it.
Challenges we faced
A couple of challenges arose during the 6-week trial of our 4-day working week, purely because we hadn’t thought about setting parameters for certain scenarios.
The first challenge we faced was: If I want to take annual leave for a week, do I need to book off 4 or 5 days holiday?
To this we agreed that you would only need to take 4. We got to this decision for our trial period because it may have created an avoidance of using annual leave over the 6 weeks of summer because in effect, you are using 1 day annual leave for ‘nothing’. If this initiative is continued indefinitely, we may need to review this rule.
Another challenge was: Due to the natural constraints of a condensed week, we had to be very organised with our diaries, booking things in advance so that we worked more efficiently.
With this in mind, we now make sure we share the whole project schedule with our client in advance of the start of a project, and set the client deadlines for when they must feedback by. This in turn means that our schedule can be stuck to, and work is not pushed back.
What we do
The 4 day working week gives our team the perfect opportunity to unwind and enjoy more ‘me time’, whether it’s spent with family and friends, trying new activities, or enjoying the things we already love; whatever is important to us.
Some of our team have continued enjoying the things they love, such as surfing, recording music, paddle boarding, running, reading, going to gigs and spending time with friends and family.
Others have tried new things such as going to outdoor cinemas, triathlons and open water swimming. It’s fair to say that we have all made the most of the extra day to ourselves each week, and are so happy that our team have used this time to get fit, healthy and enjoy the outdoors.
Our Design Director, Kerry Neesam is a keen runner, and has participated in relay races, 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathons, marathons and even ultra marathons. This extra day off per week has enabled her to train for swimming and biking, and take part in her very first triathlon.
She said “I am so grateful for the time I had over the summer to train for all three events. It’s so hard to work full-time, be social, do your chores, eat, sleep and train, so this extra day has been an absolute life saver!”
Our MD, Paul Alderson has being able to spend more time in the gym that he loves, CrossFit training, but has also invested in a paddle board and has had lots of time in the middle of the sea with either his children, or his friends.
Paul says “I love exploring new ideas – and six weeks of summer has shown us that we can do anything we put our minds too.”
Having trialed this 4 day working week, we have all thoroughly enjoyed it and have felt less “burnt out”, more resilient and have more energy to tackle workloads of the studio. We predict that it will benefit our efficiency, mental health and morale in the long term.
We hope to be able to continue this initiative forever.