The 4 Day Work Week: Your Ultimate Retention Plan?

Could a 4 day work week work for your company?

 Here’s the math: 4 days x 8 hours a day = 32 hour workweek.

No catch, no secret “well we work 10 hour days 4 days a week,” but a real live shortened work week. I can almost hear the nervous thoughts and I can confess, they started in my mind too – things like “that’ll never work” and “how would I get my work done in 32 hours a week? I already work late!”

Calm down. I’m writing from an innovation conference (Collision Conference, to be specific) so I’m going to need everyone to be a little more open-minded. In the context of a startup conference, you can probably imagine this message was even more surprising. I’m sure you know if you’ve worked at a startup, most startup’s have a culture built around high burn rates - working late and responding to e-mails in the middle of the night as if it were a badge of honor.

But what does that get you, really? Another $1000 in revenue? Will it make customers more happy? Probably not. And in the HR industry, next comes the inevitable question: Will it make employees happy? Maybe on the nights you provide beer and pizza (or for that 1% of people who really like working all night)?

In all seriousness, that burnout environment of doubling the standard workweek isn’t good for retention, hiring or engagement and bottom line, it will never be the sole reason you achieve the results you want. The people are the innovators, not the time. But a 32-hour workweek? That’s a recruiting perk that will increase retention, employee satisfaction and productivity, according to speaker Ryan Carson, CEO ofTreehouse.

So how does it actually work? Do you pay people less or offer less vacation time because they aren’t working a standard workweek? Nope. Treehouse currently offers full salaries at market value, 18 days of PTO and all standard holidays.  That buys them loyalty and happiness – far more valuable than that $1000 of revenue you earned keeping the office open late Friday night.

The proof is in the people. Treehouse employees have been approached by the likes of the largest tech innovators – Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc – and they’ve declined the offer with one simple question: “do you work a 5 day work week?” That’s an employer perk (and brand) that works. In fact, as recruiters, you have to think that if more people do what Treehouse does, you won’t be able to recruit them.

So can it work more broadly? Some things to consider:

  1. The CEO has to act as the leader. They can’t work 50+ hours a week then try to tell people they only have to work 32 hours.
  2. It can’t be 4 10 hour days. It shouldn’t feel like a trick. The leadership has to buy into the idea that employees are smarter and more productive in 32 hours a week.
  3. For a services company, either set up your customer service in shifts or set the expectation with your clients that you’ll get back to them Monday. Don’t pretend you work 5 days.
  4. Use technology to avoid time sucks. Carson mentioned that his team uses Asana to reduce e-mail volume (they do not e-mail internally) and Hipchat  instead of talking to each other at desks and avoid interruption.

Walking into the session, I thought this was more of a pipe dream than a realistic idea that could work, but I’ve definitely been persuaded (and will do my best to pitch Charney). Carson said it best, “You can work less. You can work remotely. You can pay people well. You can do the right thing. And you can still build a company that’s worth a million dollars.”

So, could a 4 day workweek work for your company?

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