When Seattle startup Uplevel adopted a four-day week in January, it was betting on the fact that employees would get the same amount done in less time.
“We were interested in seeing how the decrease in working days would push people to be more efficient,” said Jori Maurer, vice president of marketing and people at Uplevel.
The experiment exceeded expectations: during a three-month trial period, the company saw higher product delivery volume and onboarded more customers than ever, according to an internal report. Not one employee expressed a desire to go back to a five-day week. The company still has a four-day work week policy in place.
The results at Uplevel — which, fittingly, aims to help organizations meet their goals without burning out engineers — align with the findings of a global study published last month that surveyed more than 900 employees at 33 companies who had participated in a pilot program coordinated by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global.
Overall, the study found that a shorter week did wonders for people’s mental and physical health, with no significant downsides for employers. In fact, participating companies’ revenues rose 38% on average when compared with the same period the previous year. The results add to a growing number of case studies demonstrating the benefits of a shorter week.
We spoke with Uplevel and another Seattle startup, Volt Athletics, to learn more about the positive impacts of a 4-day-work week and also related challenges.
Dan Giuliani, CEO of fitness app startup Volt, said that when it shifted to a four-day week in July 2020, leaders had to ruthlessly prune their meetings.
“We took every recurring meeting off the calendar and only put meetings back on that we felt were necessary,” he told GeekWire.
About a third of these never made it back onto the calendar, and they used more discernment in deciding who should participate in remaining meetings. Meanwhile, the company gathered feedback from employee surveys about how they viewed their own productivity.
“What we found very consistently is that productivity at all levels was about the same, if not a little bit better,” said Giuliani, adding that there was a significant boost in employee wellbeing, happiness, and satisfaction.
When it comes to recruitment and retention, a four-day week can help smaller companies stay competitive.
“We have to be competitive with the big players,” said Giuliani. “This helps us bring in folks that are looking for a combination of factors that include lifestyle and work/life balance.”
Maurer said inbound job applicants rose exponentially after implementing a shorter week.
The global survey from 4 Day Week Global reported 70% of respondents who said their next job would need to offer between 10-to-50% more pay for them to go back to a five-day schedule, with more than 10% saying that no amount of money could make them go back. Another report released in February by Qualtrics, which surveyed more than 1,000 people, found that the vast majority of U.S. employees (94%) would support their employer in adopting a four-day work week.
Customer service challenges
When it comes to dropping a work day, one of the most commonly cited concerns is maintaining quality customer service. In the Qualtrics survey, more than half of employees (55%) believed that closing operations for a day would likely frustrate customers.
Giuliani conceded that this is a challenge. He said Volt’s customer service team does respond to inquiries throughout the weekend, but noted it doesn’t receive a huge volume of requests. The policy is to try to respond to customers within 24-to-48 hours, and employees make the call as to when exactly they get back to them.
At Uplevel, a few employees in various departments are designated to be “on call” every Friday. In addition, since the pilot wrapped, the company re-emphasized that if a situation deemed “business critical” arises, it expects people to be available on Friday regardless of whether they’re “on call.”
Is it really an off-day?
“Closing the office” (even if only metaphorically) isn’t a black-and-white deal when workers have 24/7 access to their devices and may feel pressure to meet their metrics regardless.
Maurer said many staff chose to work on Fridays, with some saying they appreciated the chance to get more “deep work” done without interruption. Giuliani said Volt’s staff often opts to work on their “off day” as well, which he doesn’t see as a bad thing.
“We intentionally named the policy ‘Flex Fridays’ with the idea that you could do anything you want with your time on that day,” he said. “A lot of people end up doing some work, but they do it on their own time, without feeling the stress and strain of being online and responsive.”
Mikaela Kiner, founder & CEO of Seattle-based HR consulting firm Reverb, takes a slightly different approach with her team of roughly 75 employees and consultants. Rather than adopt an official four-day policy, which her staff voted against, she has a “no meetings on Fridays” rule and general understanding that it’s a flexible day. The feedback from her team is that flexibility is more important than a strict adherence to fewer days.
One caveat of the 4 Day Week study is that it skewed toward smaller businesses. Researchers at 4 Day Week Global are in talks with larger companies to roll out more pilots in 2023. Microsoft did experiment with a 4-day work week in Japan — and saw increased productivity.