Search Engine Journal

Four-Day Work Week: Pilot & Early Challenges [An SEJ Case Study, Part 1]

In September, Search Engine Journal staff voted to approve a trial run of a four-day work week program!

We’re running the program in partnership with 4 Day Week Global as a six-month pilot.

One of the key tenets of the trial internally is that it’s employee-led – which is why leadership asked for an employee vote on whether to begin the trial. Leadership also nominated a committee of employees to hear concerns and implement a policy regarding the trial.

We’re coming up to the halfway point of our trial, and I wanted to write about some of the successes and challenges we’ve encountered so far.

If you’re thinking about implementing a four-day work week trial for your company, I hope this information can help you prepare!

The Four-Day Work Week Program

The four-day work week experiment has a few key tenets:

  • It has to work for everyone.
  • People shouldn’t be trying to fit more time into their week in other ways. It should be 100% pay, 80% time, and 100% productivity.
  • The end result should make life better and less stressful during the work week – not more stressful.

The Biggest Challenges With A Four-Day Work Week

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re already on board with the potential benefits of four-day work weeks.

We’ve experienced many benefits, and I’ll go through them in a future article.

Let’s get right into the challenges we discovered with the pilot program and the solutions we’ve implemented so far.

A Four-Day Work Week Has Different Implications For Different Teams

Teams that deal with anyone externally may have a more difficult adjustment to four-day weeks.

External facing teams, like sales, account management, and media, lose a day during which their contacts might send important or time-sensitive messages.

If your company’s schedule isn’t effectively communicated, this may cause frustration and missed deadlines.

These teams may have additional concerns about the KPIs they’re responsible for, and whether they’ll need to be on-call to deal with urgent issues that come up during off days.

We decided to resist the temptation to try and find workarounds that ensure we keep coverage for the full week.

This may not work for your company. As 4 Day Week Global says, there isn’t one solution that works for every company.

We discussed at length the possibility of having different teams or different employees working different schedules.

However, four-day weeks are a difficult adjustment, and the more complicated you make it internally, the more likely you won’t get full implementation across the whole company.

Many companies have employees who feel that it’s necessary to put in extra hours.

To keep everything fair and prevent some employees from taking on additional burdens, we decided that everyone should take the same day off, and it should be enforced as closure time – at least for the duration of our trial.

There have been some situations where people put in extra time on a Friday (I’ve done it, though only twice), but in general, we find that the temptation is less prominent if everyone observes the same day. It’s easier to maintain the cultural message that we are closed on a single day.

So, how do you solve the problems external teams will encounter?

Clear communication is our answer. Be public about your new schedule, and reach out to any external stakeholders to inform them.

You’ll need to send constant reminders. It’s good to put the information on your website, email signatures, and any boilerplate messages you send externally.

This requires support from leadership and every employee to ensure that external-facing teams don’t take on a heavier burden than others.

We’re still implementing this. Different teams have different communication responsibilities.

A Four-Day Work Week Impacts Part-Time And Hourly Employees, And Contractors Differently

For salaried employees, the four-day work week calculation is pretty easy: 100% pay, 80% time, 100% productivity.

SEJ employs people all over the world and has a variety of different contracts and arrangements. We have some full-time contractors, some part-time contractors, and even some hourly arrangements.

How to ensure that the four-day week is an equal benefit for all parties is a challenge we continue to address.

Our priority is an employee-lead approach to these questions.

Because we have so many different types of employment arrangements, how to best manage the program for each type of employee is an ongoing conversation, and contract employees have representation on the internal committee making policy decisions during the trial.

We discovered a variety of opinions about the best way to handle the different arrangements, and the employee committee has presented some possibilities to leadership.

We used existing information from 4 Day Week Global, especially some of its case studies, to guide our conversations.

Do Holidays Create Three-Day Weeks?

During the second week of our trial, we ended up with a three-day week.

This caused quite a bit of frustration and concern. That extension of reduced hours puts a lot of pressure on employees who have performance KPIs to meet.

Part of the issue is that we had a policy that moved the observance of holidays that fall on weekends into weekdays. We were observing Saturday holidays on Fridays, and Sunday holidays on Mondays.

With the four-day work week, we decided that we should modify that policy.

Holidays that fall on Fridays and Saturdays will no longer be observed during the work week. Holidays that fall during the week, and those that fall on Sundays, will still result in days off.

That way, employees can still benefit from the occasional extra-short week, but we aren’t creating too many high-stress weeks with less time to get things done.

Four-Day Weeks Exacerbate Existing Productivity Pain Points – This Is Good, Actually

If you have issues with your workflow or productivity, experimenting with four-day weeks will make them urgent.

And that’s good.

It’s easy to get so caught up with the day-to-day work and the most critical deadlines that your housekeeping suffers. Whether individual employee, team, or company, it’s difficult to find time to improve efficiency and remove roadblocks.

Losing a day makes this work urgent and necessary. It will also show you where the biggest pain points are.

This can be a bit of a shock. If you have a particular process taking up a lot of time (like, I don’t know, meetings), it will suddenly get much more problematic for everyone involved.

We found this very informative, and it’s been a big push that we all needed to tackle inefficiencies as a team.

We’re still working on it. The problem with less time is that, well, you have less time.

But here’s where we feel that our employee-led effort is critical: Our committee of employees overseeing the program has been empowered to make decisions and set goals. All employees have been invited to share their experiences, struggles, and suggestions via an anonymized suggestion box.

For this program to work, you need the truth:

  • Who feels like they have to work extra time?
  • Who is more stressed about the program, and why?
  • Does anyone feel that implementation has been unfair?

These aren’t truths everyone will feel comfortable putting their name to, or taking directly to leadership.

That’s why SEJ thought it was important to have a committee of employees from multiple levels that was empowered not only to hear employee concerns, but also to make decisions about the program.

How Is SEJ’s Four-Day Work Week Working?

As you can see, we had plenty of challenges! The above isn’t an exhaustive list of the roadblocks and stumbles we’ve had along the way.

We’re about halfway into the program, and while we still have many kinks to work out, the overall sentiment is positive.

We definitely have some big questions to answer and some big workflow issues to tackle.

The four-day work week not only gives us more control over our personal lives but also pushes us to solve existing problems that we may not have otherwise prioritized.

We’re gathering feedback from all team members about the program as we go. I’ll write an update soon to discuss some of the results.

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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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