Why one PR agency is going down to 4-day week – without cutting pay

As of next week, Radioactive PR is cutting its working week down to four days. The agency’s founder, Rich Leigh, explains why this is not just about long weekends.

A couple of months ago, I asked myself – if today was ‘day zero’, and tomorrow day one, what kind of business would I build, knowing what I now know?

What kind of agency would I ‘start’, with the buffer in the bank we’ve worked hard to get to – re-imagining it as an investment, perhaps – and with the team and clients we already have in place?

I thought long and hard about what the three and a half years in existence have taught me, and what could be done differently. I kept coming back to work-life balance and…

I’m proposing that we go down to a four-day work week.

As in, we won’t work Fridays anymore – and it won’t impact staff salaries in any way.

It started with me thinking about us already finishing at 4pm on Fridays, wondering how we’d fare if we went down to a half day, and has gone from there.

Why?

Happy staff doing great work with happy clients. It’s not the catchiest mission statement, but, 3 and a half years in, it’s an ethos that’s served us well, and we’ve grown to a team of ten so far with that at the core of how we work.

I remind myself of it regularly. How do you get happy clients? Great work. How do you get great work? A happy team.

Technology was supposed to give us a better work-life balance. If anything, it’s made it worse. In a broader context, I think that getting rewarded for being good at your job has been replaced by a culture that celebrates being wedded to your job, above all else. Presenteeism is good for nothing and nobody.

I also think… we all – the Royal We here 🙂 – have things we want to do but don’t have or make the time for, whether that’s personal improvement, starting new projects or even getting the time to relax.

I, as an employer, just went along with it, because a five-day work week is the norm. I think we can, at this size, make a change that stays with us as we grow. Releases never go out on Fridays, after all, and we can be ‘on’ in the same way we are for clients at the weekend – for example, get everything done that is on the weekly grid and client timelines in the days we ARE in, and if anything crops up and can’t wait, we’re on it.

Concerns?

Crises happen, and in talking to clients about this, they were most keen that:

  1. results aren’t affected and
  2. they can speak to us, and we’re not missing out on big opportunities that come in and can’t wait, if absolutely needed

With good time management, I think we can handle the first point easily. Clients do not pay us to work on specific days and nor has one single client ever dictated the days we work – that’s for me and us to decide based on each client and our workload. It’s up to us as a team to deliver to deadlines using the time we’re paid for. Every client has multiple members of the team across it, and as I’ve never wanted the staff to be at 100% capacity, we have the internal resources to deal with the move.

The only possible ‘loser’ here is me and the agency margin, as I’ll have to hire slightly sooner than I otherwise would have – something I’m at ease with.

The second point is a case of our clients knowing that we’re conscientious and that never in the history of any client relationship have I ever refused a call or missed an opportunity outside of work hours.

The client response to news of the trial has been 100% positive, so far – ‘super exciting!‘, ‘we have zero concerns and know you’d be there if we need you‘, ‘keep up what you’re doing and we’ll be happy!‘ – and many more replies like those – and generally, really kind and supportive feedback.

Trialling this

We will be trialling a four-day work week for the next six weeks. I’ll be asking all clients to complete simple satisfaction surveys at multiple stages throughout the trial (weeks two, four and six), with which, I’ll make a call as to whether we continue it.

The trial will start from this next week – commencing Monday the 25th June, and a decision made at the beginning of August (w/c 6th) as to whether it is continued beyond that.

How it will work:

  1. Staff will be paid the same salary
  2. Post-trial, if it’s something we implement full-time, annual leave would be contractually reduced by 20% to 20 days (staff currently get 25 days, plus bank holidays, plus their birthday off)
  3. On bank holiday weeks, we will still work four-day weeks (there are eight bank holidays in a year)
  4. Lunch hours will be reduced to 45 minutes

Has this been done before?

Other companies – not UK-based, as far as I can see – have tried similar, but not without either a salary sacrifice or stipulation that the 5th day off was dependent on all work being done in 4 days.

It’s well-worth remembering that not every industry can necessarily do this, and that, as a service business that sells expertise and time, we’re very fortunate.

Agency growth

Our margin, especially as a Gloucester-based agency in a London-centric UK industry, delivering great work for similar fees, is healthy. We have a solid base of current clients and an exciting new business pipeline. This trial and possible employment of the four day week would not be without risk, of course, but if any business is in a good place to give this a real go, I think we are.

We’re growing and have been growing since day one, and I don’t see any reason this should slow that down, given the PR model of selling our time and expertise means it’s all about the time we have to sell. Again, we just recruit sooner, as and when needed.

What next?

Well, we give it a go. It’s either a spectacularly daft idea, or… it just might work.

Watch this space for updates!

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Featured image courtesy of flickr user Marco Verch

Comments
  1. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “oy” in “comment_content” *]
    Excellent approach to work/life balance and improving productivity. Some great examples recently in other sectors: one employer in Glasgow has cut the workday to be 9-1pm but with ground rules like – no personal calls, no personal internet use – and staff buy into it because they value getting away at 1pm. So more work in less time, win-win.

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