Work

A CEO Sounds off on the 4-Day Work Week

Victoria Christie
November 30, 2021
A CEO Sounds off on the 4-Day Work Week

For most companies, the 4-day work week seems like nothing but a fantasy (thanks, corporate America), but for Jamie Savage, it’s now a reality. The founder and CEO of The Leadership Agency, a Toronto-based start-up recruitment agency, saw how quickly her employees were burning out while working from home during the pandemic. “My team was working way longer days—we all were,” says Savage. “The energy was lower, the emails were more frequent and in higher velocity on the weekends.” She went straight to the COO and partner, Elizabeth Tufegdzich. Two days later, the company shifted to a 4-day work week, with Fridays off and all of the employees’ salary and benefits staying the same.

That was in Oct. 2020. Today, over a year later, Savage has the clear perspective of hindsight. But the transition didn’t happen overnight. “It took about 3 months for it to be real,” says Savage. “There were a lot of adjustments and learning. Some of the things we had to learn to do as a leadership team was to lead by example—because we’re saying, ‘Okay, it’s safe for you guys to do it,’ yet we’re online. So for us to achieve emotional and psychological safety, and just overall safety, they needed to see it from us too.” 

Having Fridays wide open removed the stigma of asking permission for personal time off, according to Savage. She started to see her employees investing in their mental health (and talking openly about therapy), as well as starting new side projects. Savage attributes the company’s increased financial well-being to the well-being of its now-happier employees. “Our profits have doubled, we’ve expanded into new markets, [and] our margins are better than they’ve ever been.”

Savage (far right) with her team

Sounds amazing, right? Although it’s incredible that the 4-day work week has worked so well for her company, it’s— unfortunately—a rarity for the rest of the workforce. The Leadership Agency is small to begin with—there’s 9 employees total, including Savage. And they were already only working until 2 p.m. on Fridays before they transitioned to Fridays off. Plus, not everyone is the CEO of a company and can implement the 4-day work week with a snap of a finger. What if you’re not the one calling the shots at all? What if you work at a legacy brand with old-school ways of doing things? These are the kinds of questions that inevitably keep the 4-day fantasy just that.

“Savage immediately eliminated sporadic meetings. Now, the team meets at 8:45 a.m. daily—and that’s it.”

Another high barrier is the myth of more days = greater productivity, and the idea that you need 5 days to get everything done. For Savage, the key isn’t time, but time management—and, when needed, moving the goalposts. “Implement time management training and realign goals,” advises Savage. “The goals don’t have to change. If you have quotas or activity targets—you’re not changing those. We just have to change how we get there.” Case in point: Savage immediately eliminated sporadic meetings. Now, the team meets at 8:45 a.m. daily—and that’s it. “We’ve gotten really laser-focused on spending every minute very wisely because we have to.”

The good news for the rest of us is that more companies are implementing (or at least testing out) a 4-day work structure, like Microsoft Japan, Unilever New Zealand, and Kickstarter in 2022. Even countries like Spain, Scotland, Japan, and Iceland, have joined the global movement. Savage has noticed the shift too: “The amount of interest and the amount of response that we’ve received—and from all areas and all different industries—has been overwhelming.” With a growing number of employees calling for this new work structure, it’s getting harder for managers to ignore. Even if all the 4-day work week accomplishes is better employee well-being (with no boost to the bottom line), then that’s still a win with everyone involved.

If you’re feeling inspired to try and make a change, Savage has some advice. Bring it up to your manager directly, if you have a good relationship with them. If you don’t, ask your colleagues if they want to collectively propose the idea to management. Suggest starting with just one Friday per month and see how it goes from there, or have half of the company get Fridays off while the other gets Mondays off. “It is a hard concept to understand and an even harder concept to think about implementing,” says Savage. “Making it bite-sized and quantifiable is your best approach.” Write down exactly how the team can measure the results, what the benefits are, and an example of another company that’s doing it successfully. The more resources, the better.

Are smaller, more nimble companies better suited for the 4-day work week? Most definitely. But with the growing push for Fridays off (especially on a global scale), it might not be a pipe dream for much longer. “We are a boot-strapped, women-lead [and] founded startup,” says Savage. “We don’t have big, massive budgets. We don’t have a lot of resources, and so I truly believe that if we can, everyone can on some level.”

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