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TGIF: Some local businesses embrace a 4-day workweek

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In an effort to provide flexibility to their workers, some area businesses are beginning to offer four-day workweeks.

Brand design studio Fried Design Co. got there about two years ago – earlier than most. Founder Josh Sullivan offers his staff of six every other Friday off.

Workers don’t put in extra hours to earn their free Friday; there are no strings attached, Sullivan said.

“They love it,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest perks that we have of working here.”

Fried Design offers competitive salaries and benefits, but Sullivan said he wants to provide an edge.

“When you find people who you can trust and who make the work better and make you better and all of those things, you want to give them everything that you can,” he said. “That’s really what it boils down to: How can we make this the best place to work?”

Stephen Bent is vice president and director of design for architectural firm Buddy Webb & Co. Inc. His company has been experimenting with having Fridays off since fall 2022. For Buddy Webb & Co., the four-day workweek is accomplished by configuring the 40-hour week differently, with staff working 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday.

“We’ve decided to keep it going. Everyone seems to love having their Fridays off,” Bent said.

He added that the model suits an architectural firm, since the professionals have flexibility in their work. They remain accessible by email, and most can schedule design consultations on other days of the week.

“That might not be the case with other professions, but it works for us,” he said.

Model gains momentum
The results of a United Kingdom trial of a four-day workweek caused quite a buzz when released in mid-February. The six-month study included 61 businesses of multiple sizes and types, and 92% said they planned to continue the four-day schedule after the study’s conclusion.

When the report came out, Springfield Business Journal conducted a reader poll on the topic, and 76% of the 792 respondents supported the concept of a four-day workweek.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, The 32-Hour Workweek Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to shorten the standard workweek by eight hours.

Sara Choate, managing director of human resources consulting firm KPM Human Capital Solutions, said she believes the idea will gain ground.

“A lot of research will tell you there are many benefits to it, which ultimately drives employee engagement,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for increased wellness.”

The U.K. study modeled a reduction of hours in the workweek, rather than a compressing 40 hours over four days. Productivity was reported to have stayed the same or improved.

The U.K. study found employees reported less stress and burnout, and even improved sleep, according to an executive summary of the findings by Autonomy, the research group that conducted the study.

Choate said the pandemic paved the way for many businesses to think about work differently.

“COVID was a catalyst,” she said. “It opened our eyes to help us see that work can be done in a number of different ways. We found that what works for one individual may not necessarily work for another.”

During the pandemic, businesses engaged in work-from-home models and other alternative models for getting work done.

“It allowed workers to flex their life around their work and not the other way around,” she said. “Being flexible and being adaptable is absolutely key to recruiting and retaining employees.”

She added that in southwest Missouri, four-day workweeks are typically administered on a case-by-case basis, rather than with an entire workplace limiting its hours.

Nothing new for some
While the idea of a shortened workweek is novel for some, it’s not new for medical professionals.

“Hospitals have been on this kind of schedule for a very long time,” said Katelyn Lenhart, administrative director of workforce development, recruitment and retention for CoxHealth. “The fact that we’re open 24-7 allows for greater flexibility.”

Nurses often work three 12-hour shifts, or 36 hours, per week, and Lenhart said other hospital workers have three- or four-day full-time schedules, too. In most sectors, a four-day workweek suggests a Monday through Thursday schedule. In the hospital, coverage is needed at all times, and work schedules can vary.

“Our employees are very appreciative of the flexibility, but it may not work for every business,” Lenhart said.

She added that more flexible workers are often more engaged.

Often, people choose hospital work because of the flexibility, Lenhart said, as this can give them a chance to engage with their families or to take advantage of child care opportunities.

Another area where a four-day workweek is becoming more common is in public school education.

Mike Henry is superintendent of the Marshfield R-I School District, which went to a four-day school schedule this year. It’s a trend that is on the rise in Missouri’s schools; data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Missouri State University College of Education shows that roughly 12% of the state’s public school K-8 students now attend classes four days per week. In Marshfield, the change has affected not only students but also district employees.

The change was brought on by the pandemic, Henry said.

“I had a teacher – she was not griping or complaining, but she said, ‘Mr. Henry, I have to make a decision: Do I fail the kids in my classroom, or do I fail the kids in my home?’” he said. “I knew I had to come up with something.”

Teachers are salaried, he said, so pay is the same regardless of how they configure the hours they work. Henry said classified staff, such as custodians, needed a different model, one that wouldn’t reduce their annual pay. Marshfield offered 10 flex days – personal time off to be used over a 12-month period – and that had the effect of increasing the hourly rate.

“It wasn’t costing the district more, and seeing the hourly rate was really good for attracting people,” he said.

Henry said it’s important to restore margins in life.

“It’s not a school issue; it’s a societal issue,” he said. “If I can help provide some of that margin and make sure people know they’re cared about, the product they produce for us is better. Having them feel like they’re valued is a good thing.”

Sullivan of Fried Design shares that sentiment.

“We have people with families, people who don’t have families, people who are single and married and everything in between, and it helps people have that extra time to do whatever they want to with it,” he said.

Once he started offering a shortened workweek, Sullivan said he realized it would be hard to take it back.

“We’re at a stage now where I don’t think we would ever go back,” he said.

Fried Design can expect company. In the second annual EY Future Workplace Index, a survey by Ernst & Young LLP, 40% of companies responding said they had either started using a four-day workweek or are in the process of implementing one.

Despite glowing results from the U.K. study, some worry the model might expand inequalities between knowledge workers and flexible or manual workers, according to a report by human resources company Adecco. Expense is another concern cited; Adecco points out that in a Swedish two-year trial of a 30-hour workweek, worker satisfaction was high, but the experiment became too costly to continue.

Additionally, although companies in the U.K. study received training to prepare for the transition, companies that make the switch on their own may find the change hard on employees and customers, at least at the outset, according to Fast Company magazine.

In a recent interview with SBJ, Abbye Bobbett, architect and chief operations officer of the newly established Kinetic Design and Development LLC, said the four-day workweek was a choice centered on putting staff first.

“It’s just been incredible to see the amount of work we’ve done and still how happy our people are,” Bobbett said.

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