HR 9 October 2018

Should your small business adopt a four-day week?

With the recent media coverage around companies adopting a four-day week, it has been clear that businesses are using it as a means of recruiting competitively

There’s a real buzz around a four day week in the media at the moment, and it’s easy to see why – in a time when productivity and mental health are being discussed hand in hand, is this the solution?

When we work with businesses, our aim is to free the business owner from the day to day, by developing systems within the business and then training and empowering their team to run the business when they’re not there. The business owner is often suffering from overwhelm and has reached out because they need more time, less stress, more consistency.

Our belief is that you should have a business that works around your life, and not the other way around.

So what of the team working in these businesses? Shouldn’t they have a job that works around their lives too? Well, productivity and engagement is highest when your team feels ownership for their role, and when regular feedback is given to inspire improved performance and to reward work well done. This all seems so simple and yet when the business owner is overwhelmed by the day to day running of their operation it is often the team that suffers alongside.

In relation to a four-day working week, the benefits seem insurmountable, but there are obvious pitfalls which need to be addressed.

Let’s assume that your business is in a healthy position. You have spent the time to develop and work on your systems; there is one, right way, to do everything in your business. You’re all set ready to scale, and if a key team member is off sick, or on holiday, your systems throughout the business mean that any team member can step in complete their tasks to the same consistently high standard.

Each of your team knows exactly what’s expected of them, they receive regular feedback and you have scheduled, quarterly formal reviews to keep your team focused, engaged, and aware of your expectations. They’re meeting their targets and feel able to come to you if there are any problems. You have an open line of communication running through your business.

Your customer journey is streamlined, efficient and systemised. No matter who answers the phone or email, your customers receive the same consistently high level of service each time, and their journey throughout your business is seamless.

With a systemised business, your options are now potentially endless.

With the adoption of a four-day week, there are obviously many considerations:

  • What does it mean to have a four-day week?
  • Will your customers be affected?
  • Does a four-day week actually increase productivity?
  • Do your team really want this?

What does it mean to have a four-day week?

There are different formats with which this can be implemented in a business, but the most popular is to divide the working week into four, not five days’ work. This would mean four longer days, a three-day “weekend” and the same salary & annual leave allowance. Most gave either a Monday or a Friday off evenly throughout the team. Structurally pretty easy to implement, but will it work for you?

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Will your customers be affected?

If you’re a customer-facing business then maintaining client accessibility is priority no.1. In many instances adopting a four-day week just wouldn’t work. For example, if you’re a small team in a retail environment where the opening hours are set, or if you’re a reactive business with a fast turnaround where you need a large team working every day to meet short deadlines.

However, if you’re in a business where the client has less contact with the team then they may not know that you’re in the office four days not five, and it would have no bearing. Similarly, if you’re a seven day a week business, then elongating some days and having fewer team members on each day may well be a benefit – more contact hours with your clients for example.

With the growing expectation that your customer can reach you at all hours of the day, spreading the hours that your team works may seem like a favourable solution.

Does a four-day week actually increase productivity?

When you know there’s a bank holiday ahead of you, and you get three days off, then come into a four-day week, many report a feeling of buzz, of increased productivity and a more relaxed atmosphere. You’re rested and refreshed and have enjoyed time with family and friends rather than rushing through your two days off to complete chores, grab some time to yourself and then prepare for the week ahead. We all know that Sunday night feeling where you never quite relax because you need to spend time to get your head around the week ahead? Well, when that eats into two days off – is it healthy?

Another consideration is that some of us are more productive and really get stuck into a long day, and others have short attention spans which benefit from short bursts of productivity and can’t be maintained for longer days.

With the recent media coverage around companies adopting a four-day week, it has been clear that businesses are using it as a means of recruiting competitively. This generation of graduates are all about a healthy work-life balance and for most, a four-day week is attractive. It is predicted that retention rates will increase because of a happier workforce, thus lowering your HR costs and pain.

Do your team really want this?

Everyone works differently – some love the structure of a Monday to Friday, 9-5. Others love the flexibility of being able to work from home on occasion, and to start at 7am and finish early, or to work late. We are all different, so there are dangers with imposing a hard and fast rule across the board in any given situation.

My advice? Ask your team. With the open line of communication you have in your business, this should be easy. It might be that many will jump at the chance, but some will be horrified about a potential change in their routine. Remember if your team members rely on lifts to work, or have childcare needs, or fit their work schedule in with a partners’ then the imposition of a four-day week could actually be very negative and cause resentment.

So can you, therefore, adopt the option of a four-day week for those who are interested? Would it have to be across the board? Is it then, in fact, more of a flexible working scenario?

A trial period for any big change such as this is key; you’ll have to set out the guidelines and figure out a way to receive feedback on the trial. I’d recommend a three month trial period as a minimum, making it very clear that if it’s unsuccessful then ‘normal’ working hours will be resumed.

Whatever suits you and your team is the right decision. No-one else can make that decision for you. However you choose to proceed, make sure that the systems are built into your operation so that you can continue to run your business in a way that means you, as the business owner, can have a business that works around your life, and not the other way around.

Marianne Page is the creator of Systems4Scale and author of the bestsellingSimple Logical Repeatable. She has 27 years of senior management experience with McDonald’s under her belt, and a further ten working with successful small business owners, helping them to scale, grow and occasionally sell their business.

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