Summer Fridays have arrived early at a handful of comms agencies. They include Praytell, LaunchSquad, Brandware Group, FischTank PR and GillepsieHall. Each of them is piloting a four-day workweek — or a variation of it.
They are part of a global movement to shorten the workweek — or to make long weekends the norm, depending on how you like to look at it.
Amid the Great Resignation, momentum for the idea picked up last summer, after Ireland shared the results of two trials between 2015 and 2019 involving 2,500 workers across different industries who switched to a four-day workweek.
It was found to have had a “dramatic” improvement on the wellbeing felt by these employees, while productivity was reported by their employers as just as good, and among a minority of respondents, even better despite working a day less per week.
Since then, Belgium has passed legislation that gives employees the right to ask for a four-day workweek, though still at 40 hours, without a reduction in salary.
In the U.S. – where historically people work more hours than in other developed nations – the idea has gained support from some members of Congress.
In the corporate sector, Toronto-headquartered multinational software company Alida and San Francisco-based e-commerce platform Bolt are among the companies to have generated news headlines for introducing a four-day workweek for staff.
Now some agencies are kicking the tires of the idea to help prevent employee burnout and build a stronger employer brand.
Praytell, which is owned by independent agency network Project Worldwide, started to pilot a four-day workweek on October 1. The pilot runs until the end of March when the firm will evaluate whether to continue it for the rest of the year.
“One-hundred percent of our people have the same schedule: Monday through Thursday,” says Praytell CEO and founder Andy Pray. He says they have “built into our weekly schedule back-ups,” such as having people on-call for urgent client needs.
The decision to have its roughly 160 staff work the same four days was informed by learning from a past attempt at the idea.
Praytell piloted a four-day workweek in summer 2020, in response to the burnout employees were feeling in the months after the outbreak of the pandemic. “We had a glorious and noble failure,” Is how Pray puts it. “We overengineered it by having 30% of the staff working Tuesday through Friday and 70% of the staff working Monday through Thursday, in the hopes it would give us more client coverage.”
While he says it “felt the right way to go on paper, we were kind of always one or two people from a full deck of cards and so almost everyone’s meetings were being condensed into Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That was not sustainable, and you could feel the drip on us as our business started to heat up again.”
This time around, Praytell has seen “an incredible lift in terms of work-life balance satisfaction, and the pride the people feel in the agency and the work they are able to do,” says Pray. “Basically every metric that we polled employees on went up.” Clients have also disclosed no disruptions in workflow or the quality of work.
On the employee front, Pray says he was confused by how well the four-day workweek has been scoring across the agency. That confusion, he explains, stems from the fact that he knows the idea “is imperfect and not a panacea. In fact, it is an unfair system to some teams, who can’t take advantage of getting as much of the Fridays off.” He points to creative and social teams, as well as the finance function.
Truthfully, he says 90% of the firm’s staff works a couple hours on their terms Fridays, while “10% are having to work a full day, and that is not fair. That is what keeps me up at night.”
Pray has thought of changing the term to “Flex Friday,” but feedback from staff was “to overcommit to the convention of a four-day workweek. The reasoning is, because if you call it a ‘Flex Friday,’ every Friday is going to be turned into a day of meetings. And if you call it ‘Summer Fridays,’ getting the day off is never going to happen.”
To work at all, though, he says meeting culture has to change. “You have to make changes by asking, ‘Can this meeting just be an email? Or could this 30-minute meeting be 20 minutes?’ If you’re not thinking about efficiencies, then it’s not going to work.”
GillespieHall, which has offices in Delaware and Pennsylvania, joined the pilot program 4 Day Week Global, which is run by entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Barnes and business advocate and philanthropist Charlotte Lockhart. The North American group of the pilot program includes 35 companies. Most of them will make the transition to four days a week in April.
GillespieHall started its pilot in September but was invited into the program for the exchange of learning with others.
At a 10-person headcount, half of the staff work Mondays to Thursdays and the other half Tuesdays to Fridays, says Clara Mattucci, a partner and behaviorist at GillespieHall, and she says that setup is working well for them. “It covers all of our bases on both Mondays and Fridays,” she says.
The misconceptions she often hears from peers is that their staff must be compressing 40 hours, if not more, in four days. Or, if they are officially at 32 hours per week, it has come with a corresponding cut in pay.
Neither is true.
“We have adopted the 4 Day Week Global 100:80:100 model – which is keeping salaries at 100% for 80% of the time and 100% of the productivity. And that has been the biggest shift in mindset,” says Mattucci. “When people express skepticism, I say, ‘What we’re really doing is changing the focus of what we are paying for, which is not hours. It is meaningful work.”
She concedes a challenge is measuring work output, ensuring it is meaningful.
“One of the ways we measure it is by asking our clients if they notice a difference in our delivery timelines, availability or work quality,” says Mattucci. “In those metrics, we’ve improved, and I think that’s because we are excited to get back to work. Everyone has so much energy returning from a three-day weekend.”
Brandware Group, an eight-person research-driven marcomm agency, is also in the middle of testing a four-day workweek. “So far, it has been a hit. There has been a notable difference in the energy level of our associates, and I think that’s owing to a better work-life balance,” says Jim Taylor, Brandware’s VP of comms. “Being in a client services industry, obviously our top concern has been client availability,” he notes. Its workaround has been to treat Fridays like a Saturday.
“In PR, you are always on, and so it is really no different on a Friday than Saturday if a client needs you,” explains Taylor. “We also have someone on-call, and rotate who that is around the agency.”
PRWeek spoke to a number of larger agency leaders who expressed skepticism about the model. They said it would be hard to pull off without clients also making the shift to a four-day week.
Jim Delulio, president of recruitment firm PR Talent, says the challenge is making it work “in a service business that doesn’t easily fit in a four-day, nine-to-five model. Agencies will have to figure out how to juggle client needs that are based on a five-plus day workweek, which may be nearly impossible for firms engaged in crisis support.”
“This model likely works best for agencies that are more b-to-b focused or have little or no crisis comms business,” he concludes.
It could be a great retention and recruitment tool for these agencies. “Firms are scrambling for solutions,” says Delulio. “The adoption of a four-day workweek is a viable option that appeals to a majority of today’s Millennial and Gen Z talent and will help agencies retain and recruit talent — at least until this becomes a more common industry practice.”
Some agencies, including LaunchSquad and FischTank PR, are trying out a 4/5 day per week rotation, where every other week staff don’t work Fridays — or half on, half off every Friday. LaunchSquad will start the rotation on March 1.
“We think it strikes a potentially ideal balance that will be relatively easy for us to transition to and not overly burden our teams and clients,” says Jason Mandell, cofounder and principal at LaunchSquad. “We’ve been moving in this direction for a while; we previously instituted no meeting Fridays and have been closing at 3 p.m. on Fridays for a couple of years.”
Lisa Picasso, SVP, is helping to lead the effort at the firm. “We are calling it a trial period, but we have every intention of making it permanent,” she says. “We are using the next three months to identify any adjustments we need to make to ensure all of our people and clients are feeling good, and we’ve divided the company up in the right way.”
An initial area of concern flagged by “our generals, if you will, has been the management of workflow. And so we want to make sure junior people can handle one less day every other week,” says Picasso.
“It is not so much a concern with senior people, but junior staff don’t have as much agency over their work. And so we’ll be paying attention to how that impacts them,” she says. “That has been the only kind of tension so far, as people overall are really excited about it.”
FischTank PR in New York started a rotational 4/5 day setup in September. “We have split them off into two groups,” says FischTank president Matt Bretzius. “They rotate Fridays off, and there is no expectation to be locked in and working like there might be with a summer Friday.”
Agency staff recently voted to keep the current setup this summer rather than have “Summer Fridays.”
“People said they really appreciate getting that day off every two weeks to recharge, regain focus and get a head start on the weekend,” says Bretzius.
This article originally appeared on PRWeek.