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Corporate culture

A radical workplace initiative: a guide to implement a four-day work week

Ivana Markovic
Apr 18, 2019 ∙ 5 mins
women smiling while working on her computer

The work environment continues to evolve. We used to talk about achieving work-life balance — but when you really think about the meaning of this term, it seems to imply that there’s some sort of ongoing competition between work and life, or that the goal is to achieve a perfect 50–50 split between the two.

At Osedea, we’ve decided to look at this concept from a different angle, intentionally creating benefits and workspaces that address the pursuit of what we call “work-life harmony” — a lesser-known term that we feel better captures the ethos of what office workers are actually trying to attain. Work-life harmony takes the “work” and “personal” aspects of your life out of competition with one another, and implies that they can coexist in a way that enables you to grow, be happy, and evolve as an individual.

At the end of 2018, we decided to launch a three-month pilot program for a radical workplace benefit: the four-day work week. We decided that every two weeks, our team members would get one day off, and have a four-day work week — but be paid as though they continued to work a full five-day week. The objective was to give our team time to focus on their families, immerse themselves in a personal project, or just catch up on life.

The Results

After our three-month pilot project, we surveyed our team, arriving at some very interesting results that support the benefits of a four-day work week — both at Osedea, and other organizations (maybe even yours!).

People value time and flexibility over money

When we surveyed them, more than 70% of the members of our software development company said they would choose a four-day work week instead of a 7.5% salary increase. Many studies have found that employees would take pay cuts for a job that respects their values, gives them opportunities for learning and growth, and provides a generally remarkable workplace.

Our gut was telling us that people would prefer time and flexibility over money, and our results proved our hypothesis right.

"I would even accept a salary decrease to make this a permanent benefit.” — One of our team members

Our employee engagement metrics improved significantly

Osedea’s four-day work week pilot happened during a very mentally taxing period (winter!). According to The Canadian Mental Health Organization, about 17–18% of Canadians experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, defined as “a kind of depression that appears at certain times of the year. It usually begins in the fall, when the days get shorter, and lasts through the winter.”

Historically, due to SAD, it’s a period when our employee satisfaction and happiness declines. This year, we increased these scores by 5–15% in three key categories: Happiness, Wellness, and Satisfaction. This was an amazing milestone for our team.

96% of our team members would love to promote this to a permanent benefit

We took a big risk by trying the four-day work week initiative. But our team loved it, and we didn’t find that our productivity, or our rate of bringing in new business, suffered.

Here are some of the things the members of our software development company had to say about the program:

“ Having that one day made a big difference, because it allowed me to have a day when chores could be completed without distractions.”

“Felt less stressed and more motivated. Helped to get home stuff done, and done faster (no lineups in grocery stores, doctor availability, etc.).”

“Being able to relax, and not feel guilty about it. It was a day when I could concentrate on my own well-being, without feeling guilty about taking a day off.”

So all was great and wonderful, right?

While overall the pilot project was positive, there were some frustrations that came up for team members. We knew we had to address these in future editions of the program, so once we compiled the results from the first pilot, we decided to run a second experiment, for an additional three months, changing up some of the parameters.

Below are the issues we encountered, and the solutions we implemented to solve them:

  1. Scheduling: Our original pilot program offered the members of our mobile app development company the choice of taking Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday off. Our thinking was that this would provide more flexibility for our clients, and avoid major team outages, but because there were so many options for when people could potentially not be in the office, scheduling meetings became a nightmare. For our second pilot, we decided that everyone would be away on Wednesdays: half the company one week, the other half the other week.
  2. Not knowing if you can count on your team members: The main thing our team loved about the program was that they had flexibility, as well as time to relax and complete personal projects. However, there was no consistency regarding how people used their “day off”. Some were available and answering questions over email, whereas others were completely M.I.A. The fact that we had failed to clarify a consistent expectation for all team members left our colleagues in the office at a loss. We’d hear people say: “I have this urgent question, but I don’t know if I can reach out to Team Member X”. For our second pilot, we rebranded the concept of the day off, calling it a “flex day” instead. This simple reframe lets us get the benefits (flexibility and relaxation), while ensuring that we’re there for our colleagues when they need us.
  3. More communication and more planning: Because of the above two issues, we decided that we needed to set the expectation to communicate more with our team members prior to our flex day, as well as keep our tools up to date so that our colleagues would know why we’re not in the office (i.e. are we on vacation, sick, away at a conference, or taking a flex day).

All in all, we’re extremely pleased with the results we’ve seen so far from this experiment, and we’re looking forward to seeing what additional benefits come out of our second try at offering our team a four-day work week.

We definitely see the value in this initiative in terms of supporting both our team members’ happiness, and our company growth, even if it means we need to do a few pilots before we zero in on the perfect parameters.

. . .

Want to know more? read part 2The 3 big truths about the 4 day work week

Thanks for reading! Have you tried something similar? What were your impressions? Reach out to us!

Photo credit: Brooke Cagle