A four-day workweek can be a popular employee benefit. Brian Abernethy, co-founder and CEO of Service Direct, an online advertising and technology company for service-based businesses, tells SHRM Online why his firm adopted an alternating four-day week and how doing so can foster greater employee engagement and productivity. The company, based in Austin, Texas, with around 30 full-time employees, last year was recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private regional companies in the U.S.
What is an alternating four-day workweek?
For us, in the simplest terms, it means that our team gets every other Friday off. No strings attached, no additional work hours during the week, and no compensation changes or paid-time-off changes. So, everyone gets approximately two extra days off a month.
When did Service Direct, founded in 2006, opt for alternating Fridays Off?
We decided to pilot this policy for a full quarter from April to July. That was about a year after the start of the pandemic and from when we transitioned to being a fully remote team.
What were the reasons for doing so?
Honestly, we decided to try it because it just felt like the right thing to do. We were talking in March at our board meeting about how stressful the last 12 months had been [and], at the same time, how awesome and resilient our team had been in helping keep the business thriving, while completely turning the way we do everything on its head. There was a lot of problem-solving, patience and perseverance from the team to help us figure out how to be a well-oiled remote workforce.
As a result, our company weathered the pandemic admirably. It was most certainly challenging, and I had my fair share of sleepless nights. Everyone had their own personal stresses in addition to job-related stressors. We were feeling some burnout and knew that our employees were feeling the same, so we wanted to try and do something proactive about it.
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What have been some of the responses from employees?
After our pilot of this new perk ended, we sent around an employee survey to gather feedback to help us determine if we should continue offering it. One hundred percent of employees said they wanted us to continue offering this benefit and that having a flexible work schedule is extremely important to their job satisfaction, while 85 percent said they felt more rested and happier at work.
There's a feeling of more work/life balance and the ability to spend more quality time with their families on those [long] weekends.
What challenges did you encounter?
My primary concern by far was making sure that our clients were still supported at the same level. I also didn't want the support team's jobs to end up being harder as a result of this new schedule. It was important to me that we still had adequate coverage for all teams and for all departmental responsibilities.
My secondary concern was making sure that this new schedule wouldn't prevent anyone from being able to do their job. I didn't want it to create any unnecessary stress for employees that couldn't get something done because a key stakeholder was out of the office. But all of those concerns can be prevented with proper planning.
What have been some of the unexpected benefits?
One of the unexpected employee learnings has been how to more effectively plan your weeks in order to get things done. In our survey, one of our employees mentioned how Fridays used to be a "dumping ground" for poorly-thought-out meetings. That made me laugh and is so true. The alternating Friday structure has encouraged meetings to be created with better planning and respect for each other's time.
On the flip slide, those who are working on Fridays use it as a "deep work" day that is uninterrupted. Both Fridays, whether in office or not, is a day the team looks forward to because they either get to go do something fun or they get a quiet workday, which ultimately leads to less stress in general.
What have been the drawbacks?
So far, we really haven't experienced any major drawbacks that would prevent us from making this a permanent benefit for the team. We've had a few little bumps along the way, as to be expected, and we learned from them and adjusted for the future.
What are some suggestions for other companies?
Consider if it makes sense for the industry you are in. If you are in the manufacturing or supply chain sectors, that is obviously very different [from being a technology firm].
If you have a relatively green workforce or leadership team, you may want to do a little planning and training before jumping the gun.
For companies wanting advice on implementation: I'd recommend doing a pilot for a three-month period to evaluate if and how your workforce adjusts. Schedule everyone's "off days" well in advance to ensure there is proper planning to account for those days off.
Critical to the success of the program is making sure everyone—especially leadership—follows the new schedule. The fastest way for your team to feel like [this perk is] not a real benefit is if you still work on your Fridays off and continue to ping them on Slack and Asana, so you need to lead by example.
A CEO Explains Why He Reduced Employees' Hours During the Summer, SHRM Online, August 2021
Iceland Cut Its Work Week and Found Greater Happiness and No Loss in Productivity, NPR.org, July 2021
5 Steps for Adopting a Four-Day Workweek, SHRM Online, February 2020
Data Will Drive CEO Decisions on Four-Day Workweeks, HR Magazine, Spring 2020