Agency impact: 6 months into our 4-day work week

By Rich Leigh,

It’s been just shy of six months since we started our four-day work week, without cutting staff pay. We trialled it first for six weeks, then announced it would be permanent in early September.

I got a lot of variations of the question, ‘but you’re a business owner… isn’t this a TERRIBLE business decision!?’.

Six months in and, further to lots of people asking me to update with business impact, I have some financial figures to share, comparing the period since June to the exact same period of time prior to the trial and guess what?

I’m very happy with where we are. I’ll continually reassess as is only healthy, but it does make for promising reading.

The results (see graph, too):

The topline: as the graph below comparing the period since June to the exact same period of time prior to the trial shows, we’ve continued to grow and are even marginally more profitable than before we started.

  • Turnover has continued to increase
  • Gross profit as a percentage of those earnings has remained stable (I know this is very high compared to industry averages and might raise a few eyebrows, but bear in mind that we’re an agency based outside of London rightfully charging what our capital peers charge for high standard work) and…
  • Net profit has stayed put, too. This is the big one for me. I’ve employed to support said growth since we started it, implemented a new quarterly staff training budget and reviewed the tools we use, keeping a close eye on outgoings. I expected a single-digit net profit hit, and am still expecting one to be honest in the short-to-medium term as I continue to employ (we have another new team member joining in the New Year and I see this next year as a big recruitment year), but that’s not happened just yet.

  • New business: we’ve continued to win new business, as the figures show. I’d say this is in spite of the 4-day week, not because of. In reality, we’ve had a couple of enquiries that went nowhere off the back of the PR. I think this is heartening – because once it’s no longer newsworthy, it shows that you can still grow a business adapting to big change
  • PR agency performance: We’ve just turned 4 years old. Earnings have more than doubled each year, and did so again throughout year 4, having worked 4 days for half of it
  • Recruitment: we’ve had dozens of great CVs, and I’ve met with some really good people, both local and willing to move. I’ve always said there’s no reason the next big agency (or group!) can’t be based in Gloucester, y’all. The level of clients we work with (including household names and a FTSE 250 company), and are talking to proves it
  • Sick days: down 75%
  • Staff retention: we’ve been really fortunate to have a 100% staff retention rate since starting the agency in 2014, and that’s still the case
  • Staff happinessI shared another anonymous survey with staff just before writing this, asking them about various aspects of work. The important one for me was, when asked ‘would you say you are more relaxed at home as a result of the 4-day work week?’, with a sliding scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (definitely), 100% of staff selected 10 – definitely
  • Time spent working on a Friday: we’ve had one pitch on a Friday (in the 24 since the trial began) that 3 of us attended, and fortunately, not one client crisis (on a Friday, at least!)
    • Based on the especially unscientific way of asking each staff member how much time they think they’ve worked each Friday and then dividing that by the number of staff, we’ve worked an average of just under 12 minutes per Friday per person – dealing with journalist requests, drafting quick statements for clients, replying to them etc. (I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much been every weekend day since I’ve worked in PR). One of the team even volunteers with a couple of charities on her Friday, now

Thoughts

I’ve spoken to a number of companies in other industries that have started their own 4-day weeks, and a couple have different ways of doing it. Some split the team, so some staff work Monday to Thursday, others work Tuesday to Friday. Some work longer hours over the 4 days; working the same number of hours per week.

I’ve considered other ways of making it work, but at least for us and based on our combined experience at other agencies, that Friday in PR used to be something of a reporting day. A day to collate results and reports and to get ahead with writing/content creation. We’re in a position now though, thanks to reporting and measurement tools such as Coverage Book and SEMRush, that we don’t have to spend as much time as we used to pulling it all together.

Technology has changed the way we work in the last 3 years, let alone the last 100+ since the move to the five day work week. Let’s make it work harder for us

Clients have been fantastically supportive, results are still coming in as well as before and it really is just the norm now.

Personally – and I’m often asked with a grin if I’m making use of the additional day – I’ve felt the benefit slightly less than I think the team has. But, I’m at ease with the fact that’s because I’m the sort of person to find more work to do. I’ve been planning the upcoming twelve months as we go into our fifth year – with my sights on a broader group offering, and making better use of the margins we enjoy (I’ve always been security conscious, and built the buffer to a point where I’m happy I can look after staff long-term rather than trying to grab at corporate tax cuts). I am also mapping out a new industry tool, but the thinking is really early stage!

On an actually personal note, I’ve been spending more time with my wife and our youngest during the day, getting to the gym a bit more and am a couple of (draft!) chapters into a fictional idea for a book I had back in August. So, I’m no less stressed, but that’s on me, I feel!

Had this just been a way to get PR as has occasionally been insinuated (and I don’t blame those that question it, I’d wonder it of me too!), well – quite frankly, there are easier, more fun and much less stressful ways to make noise (like changing your name to Mr PR for a gag, for instance!).

The ultimate upshot, I guess? I’d do it all over again.

Miss us on The One Show?

If you missed us discussing the move on BBC One’s The One Show (a bit more about that here), you can watch it here:

Final thought

As the agency owner, I’m conscious that we’re an easy target in terms of others challenging us on promotion for ourselves over our clients. If that was even a small consideration of yours – yep, you, reading this, hoping to find a negative because well, that’s what people do, sadly – have a look at the measurement-conscious case studies on our homepage, PR blog and Twitter feed if you want to see the great work we do for clients, too. Here, have five of them I wrote up recently.

We’re not shy about sharing our success, it’s just not as broadly newsworthy, obviously.

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