The COVID-19 pandemic has forced leaders across every industry to reevaluate their organizations to prioritize employee mental health and well-being. At the end of 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey by the Conference Board that found more than three-quarters of 1,800 U.S. workers had cited concerns such as stress and burnout as challenges to well-being at work, up 55% from six months earlier.
The conversation around work-life balance is front and center, but how we achieve it is still a work in progress.
One tactic being tested by businesses around the world is the four-day workweek. The success has been well-documented for those who started the rollout of a shortened workweek. Results of Iceland’s success from its large scale rollout made headlines this past summer with findings around increased employee well-being and productivity. Meanwhile, Microsoft Japan saw a 40% boost in productivity following their own shortened workweek trial. Now in the U.S., businesses from Kickstarter to Elephant Ventures are testing the model.
And yet, one industry we don’t see clamoring to explore the concept is public relations.
Being in the professional services industry and working with journalists who are up against a 24/7 news cycle certainly presents a few challenges for PR pros looking to make a change for their teams. As FischTank PR continues to find ways to maintain a positive company culture that prioritizes mental health and promotes a strong work-life balance—all while continuing to produce meaningful results—we have rolled out our own four-day work week program.
As any other organization looking to implement new workplace benefits, we’re still learning, and we’re finding what’s working and what isn’t by checking in with our teams. Here are some lessons:
1. Rotation is necessary to meet client & journalist needs.
No PR firm can simply close up shop one day a week, every week. Our approach to media relations is to provide journalists with quality resources and story ideas that are both timely and relevant. We work with our clients to strategically plan their media campaigns and deliver powerful communications strategies, and that work does not stop on Fridays. We’ve put a rotation model in place for each shortened work week, enabling team members to enjoy every other Friday off to make sure our clients are covered, and that no deadline passes for company or journalist.
2. Communication across teams is essential.
When we polled our agency at the start of 2022 to review how the 4-day workweek was impacting our teams, we had overwhelming positive feedback. More than 82% of our employees said the added Friday off “positively impacted” their work and productivity. When we asked team members to anonymously share any potential negatives they foresee occurring, communication was a central theme. Employees requested having more open communication between their colleagues to talk through who would be out on which Friday to avoid feeling pressured to be online on what is supposed to be their day off.
This insightful feedback has allowed us to institute new processes that ensure our internal meetings end with a note on who has the day off on Friday, and what urgent items others can be on the lookout for. It’s polling our teams for details like this that are crucial to the continued success of how we operate efficiently.
3. Foster a culture that promotes mental well-being.
The rotating Friday schedule is not where we stop when it comes to establishing a positive work environment. Another simple place to start is to remind our teams to use their PTO. It’s there when they need a mental health day, to unplug and to recharge. It’s easy to get into a routine of working from home and not taking off for various personal tasks, appointments, or life moments. Our shortened workweek should not and will not deter any team member taking their well-deserved time off.
Our approach is a trial, but we are happy with the team’s response to our efforts to put forth a new way of operating. We know that summer schedules, client announcements, and urgent media calls will happen on Friday’s. But during this unique time, we’re hoping to also find ways to keep our employees happy, healthy and engaged.
Ashley Willis is vice president of FischTank PR, a communications and marketing firm in technology, clean energy, financial services, real estate, professional services, and many others.