Moving to a four-day week

Home Office, flexible working

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

A PR agency in Gloucester has started a pilot to reduce from a five-day week to a four-day week, with employees being paid full-time salaries.

Radioactive PR is just over a week into the trial. Rich Leigh, founder of the agency and a dad of three, says the idea came to him when he was thinking about his own work life balance. The agency had always closed at 4pm on Friday, given Friday tends to be a slower day in PR with no press releases going out. It also made sense to ensure employees got a good start to the weekend, rather than being stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home.

Rich wanted to have time to do other things besides running the business. “I think we define ourselves too much by what we do. I wanted time to be more creative. I always have other projects on the go. I wrote a PR book and I want to write fiction. I wanted to get myself into a position where I had some time in the week to do those things and I thought if I am doing that for myself, why not for everyone else,” he says.

He considered moving from a 4pm close on Fridays to a half day, but then started thinking why businesses have to operate on a five-day-a-week model. He asked himself what it might do for team morale and work life balance to work four days and how that might affect clients. “I remembered seeing a quote about how technology would improve people’s work life balance and thinking that it hasn’t. Instead we are always available,” says Rich. “I thought the only way it would change is to question the traditional working hours and whether we are just doing them because everyone else does.”

He looked at other companies doing similar things. Some who had reduced to four days were simply trying to compress five days into four, creating more stress for employees. Rich didn’t want that model. He figured his employees were working at 80% capacity. If he could get them to 85% capacity, they would still have some spare time, but would be more refreshed for having Fridays off. The main person who would lose out, he reckoned, was him because he would have to hire new people sooner if work demands increased.

Work life balance

Another reason for moving to the four-day week was Rich’s own personal experience as a dad which led to him starting the agency in the first place.

Having worked for a small agency in Gloucester, he had moved to a large agency in London. Because of the long working hours, he would stay in London during the week. At that time he had two children. Although the agency was very flexible, he missed his family. He was 18 when his daughter was born and was determined to be an involved parent. Six months into his London job he decided being away from home so much wasn’t for him. “I got some amazing experience, but I wanted to be involved in my children’s lives and to find something I could mould around family life,” he says. He went freelance, put the word out on social media and won Go Compare as his first client. Soon he was getting too much work so he set up his own agency.

There are now 10 employees at Radioactive PR. No salaries will be cut as a result of the trial. Salaries at the agency are comparable to London rates, given the company works with national and international consumer brands.

The six-week trial will be reviewed at two, four and six weeks through client surveys and regular chats with employees.

Rich recognises that not every industry could bring in a four-day week and that PR can happen at all hours, meaning Fridays can be treated like weekends and evenings, with employees able to step up if there is an emergency. However, he thinks there are other employers who could rethink their hours and he is keen to influence them. Before he started the trial he sounded out his clients to see what they thought. He says he was very cautious about it, but they were very positive, even envious, as long as there was no impact on their results.

Permanent changes

If the trial is successful and not just a summer experiment, Rich will implement the policy permanently. He has thought it through thoroughly and decided that he will reduce holidays in line with days worked so full-time employees will get 20 days, instead of 25, as well as bank holidays and an extra day off for their birthday. On a bank holiday week they will still work four days a week and lunch breaks will be cut by 15 minutes to 45 minutes. Rich says most people don’t take the full lunch break anyway, but he added up the time and it was equivalent to 10 hours a week for all staff which could equate to a whole new client in billable time.

The policy has brought the agency some PR and drawn attention to the issue of work life balance, but Rich says some media have focused on the reduced holidays more than the fact that employees are getting an extra 44 days off on Fridays not in bank holiday weeks.

Rich says the policy should make things easier for parents. PR is a very female-dominated business and he believes if the policy was used more widely across sectors it could bring greater gender diversity. One of his members of staff is about to go on maternity leave. She remarked that the four-day week could save her a lot on childcare. “It’s a happy byproduct,” says Rich.

In the first week of the pilot there was one emergency which was quickly dealt with. Many employees used the day to do general life admin, freeing them up to enjoy their weekend and get a proper rest, says Rich, whose children are aged 11, seven and 10 months. He himself went camping on the Saturday and taught his son to ride his bike on Sunday. He remarks: “The energy on the second Monday morning was brilliant. People know that this new way of working is ours to lose so they want to make it work. If our clients are happy we are happy.”

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