Are you a small business owner who’s been wanting to join the four-day workweek movement, but is unsure whether it’s feasible at your office? Don’t lose hope. Implementing a shorter workweek is actually more achievable than you think. In this episode, Gene Marks and Grace Tallon, head of operations at the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence, discuss the advantages of a four-day workweek and the different strategies for reducing working hours at your own company.
Podcast Key Highlights
- How Do I Restructure My Small Business to Accommodate a Four-Day Workweek?
- Small business owners who are interested in adopting a four-day workweek can reach out to organizations like the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence to help guide them through the process.
- A work time reduction consultant will typically start by assessing how ready your business is to implement a shorter workweek and then, explore a variety of options to see what works for you.
- Be sure to include your employees in this conversation since they have a deeper understanding of your daily operations.
- Flexibility has to play an important role in your reduced hours in order to ensure that both your employees’ and clients’ needs are being met.
- Remember, the shift to a shorter week doesn’t have to happen overnight.
- What Are Some Factors that Might Prevent a Business Owner From Adopting a Shorter Workweek?
- The industry itself
- Billing Practices
- What Are the Different Ways That a Business Can Implement a Four-Day Workweek?
- The most common way to implement a four-day workweek is to have a universal day off. Businesses will typically close on a Friday to give employees a three-day weekend.
- Another option is to close different departments of your business on different days of the week so that your clients can always reach someone.
- Some businesses will do compressed hours, in which employees will work ten-hour days for four days a week. However, this is not recommended since it usually leads to burnout among employees.
- How Does a Four-Day Workweek Impact PTO and Vacation Days?
- Small business owners should treat PTO as something completely independent from a shortened workweek.
- Universal work reduction is actually more effective than unlimited PTO because everyone is required to do it, as opposed to opt-in vacation or sick days, which many people are afraid to use.
- What Are the Benefits of a Four-Day Workweek?
- Small business owners will usually see an increase in productivity after implementing a shortened workweek.
- Having an across-the-board policy helps promote gender equality since female-identifying employees are more likely to take time off for family matters.
- Having a four-day workweek gives you a competitive edge when recruiting talent.
- What Do Skeptical Small Business Owners Need to Know About Shorter Workweeks?
- Even though a four-day workweek isn’t possible for them right now, it doesn’t mean that it will never happen.
- While it may not be evident, working a traditional five-day schedule is not yielding the results you desire and it is also costing you more than you think.
- Shifting to a shorter workweek doesn’t have to occur overnight.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Gene: Hey, everybody, it’s Gene Marks, and welcome back again to The Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead podcast. Really happy to have you here, and I’m really happy to have Grace Tallon. Grace is the head of operations at the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence. Grace is talking to us from Toronto. Thank you so much for joining us, Grace. It’s it’s great to have you here.
Grace: Hi, Gene, thanks for having me. I’m excited.
Gene: Yeah, we have a lot to talk about today because your topic, which is really work week and flexibility and smarter working, these are things that are of huge, huge importance to many of my clients, as well as to many of our audience as well. But before we get into some specific questions I have for you, let’s talk a little bit about the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence. Tell me about the organization and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Grace: So we are a global organization based here in Toronto. And myself and Joe O’Connor set this organization up in partnership with Curium Solutions, who are a people first change management organization. They’re based in the U.K and the U.S. Joe O’Connor was the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global, so he was intimately involved in the trials that we would’ve read about. And I guess this idea of a center of excellence in work time reduction was born out of what we were seeing through the trials, which was really companies needing a little bit more support. This being a movement that is definitely gaining traction and we see it in the headlines all the time. But what we do in the center of excellence is really we get under the bonnet and we get in two organizations to see how ready they are. Because some organizations, they want to do this, but they’re simply not ready. It’s not a switch that you can turn on tomorrow.
Grace: So what we try to do with our clients is bring them along that journey. And we also have a research wing to the Center of Excellence, which is where we’re kind of really delving into the benefits of work time reduction in different organizations and in different parts of the organization as well, because often, we find our clients might move certain parts of their companies to a universal day off, other parts of the organization will reduce their areas during different days. So there’s lots of ways that we see our clients starting this journey, but I suppose one of the really important things is that it is a journey. It can be a 6, 12, 24-month journey, and I guess that’s the important thing for leaders, I suppose, who are entering this conversation or some are sort of afraid to enter the conversation because they think, “Oh, once we start to talk about the four-day week, our employers…” So the great thing about, I feel, what what we’re doing in the Center of Excellence is allowing people to have that conversation, to go back to talk to their employees and see, can we do this? Is this possible for us? And some companies say, “No, it isn’t. I’m not ready today,” and that’s okay. It’s going to take some time before we see this brought in across every organization, which I do believe we will see, but it’s not happening today or tomorrow. And what we are trying to do is really support and help organizations to make that decision and to see how they can move forward.
Gene: So, it’s funny because the whole concept of the four-day work week is, it really depends on the audience of business owners that hears this. You know, there have been some real successful four-day work week programs in Europe. And I’m not even sure about Canada, but I’m wondering if maybe you can, if you’re comfortable talking about some of the successful implementation of four-day work week. I think Microsoft did one recently, some other larger companies. Tell us a little bit about the companies that have implemented four-day work weeks and what they saw.
Grace: So there are indeed companies here in Canada that have ran some really successful trials, some even before there was those four-day week trials that we would’ve read about. Some companies began a trial. Like, The Ross Firm started their legal firm here in Canada. They started a trial with compressed hours, which we don’t advocate for in the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence. But it was a way for them to begin the journey. And by compressed hours, you’re sort of working 10 hours a day over four days, let’s just say for argument sake. Sometimes it can look different. And what their CEO realized after a couple of months of doing this, there was burnout, their employees were not as productive in the last two hours of the day, but there was definitely an appetite for seeing, you know, how can we actually make this work by really reducing hours and having genuine work time reduction. And they did that. And that is a difficult industry to do it in. The legal sector is hard. They were working billable hours at the time. So they had to go back to the drawing board and look and see, you know, how can we change the way that we bill for projects? Because they were billing by the hours, they had to look at that.
Grace: They had to go through… We’ve heard, you know, you’re looking at the distractions in the office, you’re looking at how are you using technology, and they did that. And the response from employers was incredible, and employees was incredible. They were happier, healthier, more productive. They would recommend working in the firm to, you know, and I think that’s the biggest thing, is the talent attraction piece. And when your people are saying, “This is a wonderful place to work” and genuinely feel that and that’s what they’re putting out, that’s a huge thing. And the other aspect was that clients were really happy too because obviously the bottom line is really important. And not just from your bottom line financially. You’re trying to build partnerships, you’re trying to build relationships. And I think often what we find is, leaders are afraid of what their clients are going to feel. But 9 times outta 10, the clients wanna go on that journey with them and they’re actually really interested in how they did it and can they do it themselves. And certainly, there’s… here in Canada who’ve also had a successful four-day week. And that’s how the movement grows, is when more of similar organizations in the industry are doing it successfully.
Gene: Sure. Makes sense. No, that completely makes sense. Does a four-day work week, Grace, necessarily mean that our company is closed on Fridays? Is that what you normally see?
Grace: Well, I think that what we’re seeing a little bit more in the pieces that we’re reading and the big headline is, three-day weekend. But what I’m happy to see is, I’m reading more articles that are getting under the bonnet and are talking about what work time reduction can look like. A lot of businesses are simply not in a position to close the door on a Friday. And often, employees don’t want that either. And so we see lots of different structures, and, you know, I think the biggest thing is that it has to work for the organization. And I mentioned before about, sometimes part of the organization can close on a Monday or close on a Wednesday, and you don’t run that… That team doesn’t come in that day, and another team will.
Grace: I mean, it doesn’t have to be that you run the same work time reduction piece across the organization. It can look differently. Depending on the size of the organization, we often see that different parts will implement the strategy a different way to suit that team. But very much, it is not just about closing. Yes, it works for lots of businesses. I mean, there’s a firm here, Approxis, who gives that universal day off, and that works for them. And I mean, that is an industry that, you know, they’re client focused, they’re under pressure. It’s a really fast-paced industry, and they made it work. And particularly, there’s so much burnout in that industry as well. You’re also looking for these creative juices all the time. If your staff are burned out, they’re not gonna be able to produce that for you.
Gene: Of course, of course. Do you find that your clients and other companies that you talk to that are implementing four-day work week programs, do they adjust PTO and vacation to accommodate, or do you consider them to be two independent things?
Grace: We consider them to be two independent things because we do see organizations who might have had unlimited vacation time, which personally I feel, people generally don’t use that.
Gene: Studies have shown that too, by the way.
Gene: Studies have also shown that as well.
Grace: When you have something that’s opt in, and this is the wonderful thing about a work time reduction project, is that, and implementing work time reduction, is it’s across the organization. It’s not opt-in. This is what we’re doing, and everybody. It’s fair across the organization and everybody does it. When you have that opt-in vacation time, as you’ve said, studies have shown people don’t necessarily use it. So just back to your question, no, they’re two separate things. We see most organizations will keep the same PTO because this is really about fundamentally changing the way that you work. So you’re still producing the same thing. the idea is that you almost do become more productive, and that’s what we’ve seen. It’s an opportunity to sort of go back to basics and see how can we do this better.
Gene: Let’s talk about your organization, the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence. Approximately how many employees at your organization and do you guys have a four-day work week?
Grace: So we do. We do have a four-day work week. We’re flexible in terms of how that works for us. We are a startup, essentially, so you know what that’s like. It’s very busy. We’ve got a lot of balls to juggle, and we’re growing. So our team is spread globally. We have 50 odd consultants in the U.K. We have 15 consultants in the U.S. We have a wonderful board that supports us. We’re partnering with the University in Toronto.
Gene: And these are employees, by the way, when you refer to consultants?
Gene: They are, okay.
Grace: Yes, yeah. So… So, yeah, we definitely try to do a four-day week as much as possible. And, of course, there are some weeks that you can’t do that, but we try to.
Gene: But it has to. But it just, you know, I guess it depends on the circumstances. So what about you, Grace? I mean, you’re head of operations. You have a responsible job. You’re senior management at this organization. How has the four-day work week experience been for you?
Grace: I think from my perspective, I began working a four-day week when I started working for the Center of Excellence. So I really believe that a good time to do is in a startup. And many people say that that’s a scary idea for them because they’re desperately trying to get this going and really make it work and you wanna use every minute of the day. But actually, if that’s the way that you’ve always done it and you really try to prioritize and you do all the things that we read about all the time, you know, getting your to-do list, doing the most important thing, cutting out the distractions. If you commit to doing that, it is certainly possible. It absolutely is possible. And of course you’re gonna have, I mean, I could have a meeting on a Friday when I’m supposed to be off with a really big client. And of course you’re gonna take that because that’s a priority that you… And that’s the thing, is, you know, that’s across the board for every organization that’s looking at this. If you have a project that your team needs to work towards, there has to be flexibility in the same way as there’s flexibility now in the five-day week. If you have something, a deadline, or you have a really important client that wants to meet at a time that you generally don’t work, you’re going to take it. So, we have to be open and honest about what the realities are of a busy organization.
Gene: It’s funny. So I have 10 employees in my company and about a dozen contractors, but let’s exclude them from this conversation. And we don’t have a four… I thought the whole concept of a four-day work week race is that, particularly for people that are in a service position, a management position, white collar kind of position, as long as they’re getting their stuff done, and this is the way that I am with my employees, I don’t really care if they’re working one day a week or 12 days a week. You know, I mean, it’s up to you. So, if I send an email to somebody, I’m not expecting a response in an hour, but I am expecting a response, sometime timely if it’s an important one, even if I’m sending it over the weekend. But most of us are pretty good with the fact that unless there’s like some fire is going on, it can wait until the actual work week begins. But I have to tell you like, we don’t clock in, we don’t clock out. For all I know, I’m running a four-day work week company because I’m just not keeping track of people’s time. Is that the way it is at your business? I mean, because you said people are spread out all over the place, and I’m assuming you work from home quite a lot and… So your four-day work week model is one, again, at your company, is one where people are left up to their own devices as long as they’re getting their stuff done. Is that a fair way to describe it?
Grace: It is for us. And I suppose in terms of, if you look… If you’re using the Center of Excellence as a model-
Grace: We’re working… We are working with consultants all over the world. So it’s a slightly different structure whereby we’re working towards a project more so than, so it is a little bit different than we were always a nine to five, we’re all based in Toronto. But what I would say about, you’re discussing your own team and as long as they get their work done, which is a wonderful culture to have, the one thing I would say is that, not everybody is going to take the downtime. And so by bringing in a policy across an organization, it ensures that it’s fair, it ensures that there is productivity, and you are getting the most out of your employees as well. And if we look at the huge benefits, and one area that I’m particularly interested in is gender equality. And the idea around the real transformational change that I believe work time reduction will have on working parents.
Grace: And if you don’t bring a policy across the board, not everybody’s gonna do it. And it’s nine times outta 10, women who take that extra day off. So that’s the only thing about not making it mandatory, is that I don’t think that that equates to fairness is the only thing.
Gene: Right. I have… Like, in my company… And by the way, thanks for your nice comments. I run like the world’s most dysfunctional company because we’re completely virtual. We’ve been this way, by the way, since 2005. So like, we hardly ever see each other face to face, and we lose some culture because of that, and innovation. That’s a whole other conversation. But of the 10 employees, seven of my employees are women and three are men. And particularly for the women, and they’ve all been with me for a long time. Many of them I’ve been through, they’ve had kids, and it’s always been… I’ve just always had the attitude of being like, “Listen, you gotta do what you gotta do for your family, for your kids, for whatever, and then you’ve got your clients that you’re responsible for. So, however you are up to manage, I’m not gonna sit there and micromanage your day. And if you’re not available three in the afternoon because you’re doing something that’s family related, that’s fine, as long as, ultimately, you get me the answers that I need or that you’re serving your clients, you know? So I mean, I don’t know. I’m just saying that’s kinda the attitude that we’ve had. And it’s like you said earlier, it’s different for every company, isn’t it?
Grace: This is the thing. And it is incumbent on employers like yourself to create an environment where women can thrive. And allowing… And having an opt-in policy of a four-day week or opt-in flexibility in very large organizations where there isn’t the same culture, Where, we’re talking about 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 employees, sometimes much larger than that. It needs to much more detailed. It really does. And I think when we start to move towards work time reduction, that is when… And when large companies start doing it, that pushes everybody else in that direction, you know? So it’s bringing policies in. I mean, flexibility, you can’t unring a bell. That’s happened now. People are demanding that.
Gene: There’s no doubt. And your point about large companies is so important because, listen, we’re competing for talent with bigger companies. And if I’m competing with other tech companies and they’re providing four-day work weeks, and it becomes a standard thing, I mean, if I wanna get talent, I’ve gotta respond to that. So this is absolute reality. Okay, so you and I both work for in companies that makes it easy for us to be that flexible, you know? But I’ve got… I’m thinking of a client that I have right now and they’re in like New Jersey that they have about 150 employees and they’ve got 50 to 70 of them in the manufacturing plant. I mean, these are alley workers and they’re running machines. It’s tough for them to do something like a four-day work week thing without doing the 10-hour a day thing. What would you say to a company that, has hourly workers where their jobs are dependent on the output. Like, they have to be there between a certain period of time. How do you address companies with those issues?
Grace: Yeah, and that can be a real challenge. Again, I’d say like, most of the projects that we run, your employees will tell you how to do this. So there’s very few managers from the C-suite that are gonna be able to know the ins and outs of everybody’s workday and be able to tell you how you’re going to find deficiencies. But they know because they’re doing it every day. So if it means that you have to buy a new piece of equipment, for instance, if it means they’ve researched, they’ve said, “Well, this doesn’t really work and this takes me longer and they need to invest in a new machine that does something differently.
Grace: Then if they go back to the drawing board and look at their finances and say, “Okay, so our turnover was whatever it was last year and our sick days where this. If they do the math, they’d probably be better off buying the better machine and making that a bit more efficient for their employees. So no matter whether you’re dealing with… I think they did in fact get a new machine, or you’re dealing with an IT company, your employees will tell you because it is so transformative for them and their lives that they wanna make this work. And again, they know their work better than you do. Grace: You may think you do, but you’re not doing what they’re doing every day. So, yeah, finding from them, finding out from them how to do it. But often, with something like manufacturing, it can be investment in something that you’ve been putting off and saying, “Oh, I’ve seen that’s come out, and we could add to that, but it costs this.” But again, looking at how many sick days your employees are taking, looking at how the turnover is, that’s so costly. It can be better in the long run for you.
Gene: So I guess that would be your response to my next question. I mean, I have so many… We have about 600 clients in my firm, and many of them, they’re like family-owned businesses, privately-owned companies, and they’re run by… Honestly, they’re run by the skew male run by men over the age of 50 because that is also the demographics of U.S. business owners. And I know for a fact that if… I was giving the example of this one client in New Jersey. If I go to the guy running the company and say, “Hey, you should implement a four-day work week,” he’s like probably 60 years old, he would look at me like, I’ve got horns coming out of my head and I know what he would say. He’d be like, “So let me get this right? So you want them to work four days a week, but I’m still supposed to pay them for five. So I guess the response to that though, because you must see people like this all the time. It is a productivity, a sick time issue as well, a competitiveness issue. Well, how would you sell that guy to say why they should, why he should be considering a four-day work week?
Grace: I mean, I suppose I’ll take this opportunity as well to say that I was super excited to come on this podcast because small businesses and local businesses is something that I am deeply passionate about.
Grace: And I believe that small business, local business is the backbone of our communities, and they are the businesses who are gonna support your kids’ football team. They’re gonna employ your child, they’re gonna know your father’s name, and he goes in to get his paper every day. They may be the only people he talks to. And I think that-
Gene: And we’re also miserable and tired and we’re too hard, but I it.
Grace: But as a society, we’re shutting down all these small businesses. And I think in a couple of years, we’re gonna wanna open them all back up again and call it something like immersive shopping or something silly like that. But, you know-
Gene: Probably in the metaverse.
Grace: Exactly. So just to take the opportunity to say that that is something that I believe deeply in and the importance of, but work time reduction in the four-day week isn’t for everyone today. And we don’t advocate in the Center of Excellence for, turn the switch like that and to change the whole way you run your organization. There are people who are ready, there are organizations that are ready, and there are organizations that aren’t. But what I would like for that client of yours is to start to think about it, start to have the conversation and be ready and prepared to just open the door to exploring if this was something that we looked at. And look deeper than the four-day week. Look at shorter working weeks and very much go back and look at what you touched on.
Grace: How much is it costing you when you’re 150 person, staff, they’re out sick? That’s really costly. And also what’s cost you for your own mental health, the stress of that as a business owner is enormous. Finding talent, extremely difficult. We know that. How much is that costing you? I mean, if you look at the brass tack of it, because that’s what that client of yours is probably mostly concerned about. He would be surprised, I think, to see how… And then also, again, I think it’s really important to harp on about this. It’s not a switch. You’re not saying, we’re doing it tomorrow, and you’ve got to go on the journey, you’ve got to have a look and see, can we do it? And again, your employees are the ones who are gonna tell you that, is this possible? Because if it isn’t, then it doesn’t work. And you can trial something and say, “We’re going to try this. But if we don’t see these outcomes, then this isn’t going to work. Now, I will say to you, nine times outta 10 when it’s done properly, it is really, I mean, it-
Gene: Something else.
Grace: Employee and employers needs are aligned so much that it’s bound to work and it don’t… You know, because they wanna make this work.
Gene: I think it’s so important what you’re saying, mainly because for those of you guys who are listening and watching to this, I mean, every client that I go to, everybody in my community that’s running the people I interview for the articles, their biggest problem is finding people and finding good people. I mean, it’s very tight labor, and that’s not gonna end anytime soon. Having a four-day work week, it may not be for your company, but it should be something to be thought about and considered and evaluated and even tested. Because if it can be done, to me, it just seems like an amazing recruiting tool and a great way to retain your employees as well. And if you’re just ignoring it, you’re ignoring the opportunity to bring good talent to your company. So I think the message that you’re bringing is really, really important. Grace, I have to ask you, so in your bio, it says you’re an entrepreneur, an activist, and an artist, and I never asked what kind of an artist you are. What do you do?
Grace: I am a violinist and a singer.
Gene: No kidding, wow.
Grace: Yes. So I’m actually a musician by profession, but I took a different road. And my background, I was actually a politician in Ireland. I was a local representative. So I was doing that for nine years, and I guess that’s kind of when I first became interested in work time reduction. And then I moved to New York and did a research project there. And now here I am in Toronto trying to change people’s lives.
Gene: It’s very cool. You know, the political thing, no interest at all, but the violin thing is very, very cool. And do you still play or perform anywhere?
Grace: Yeah, I do. When I was in New York, I was lucky to play with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, which was an incredible orchestra. And, I was so lucky that I had that wonderful thing as part of my life to jump into a community and play with them. And I haven’t had an opportunity yet to join an orchestra here in Toronto, but it’s on my list. We’ve been busy since we moved here with the Center of Excellence. So I have to get back to my music. But I’m playing. I play a lot, and it’s how I de-stress.
Gene: Very cool. Grace Tallon, former politician, current violinist, head of operations at Work Time Reduction in Center of Excellence in Toronto. Guys, if you are considering, and you should be considering, partial work weeks, four-day work weeks, these are things that I’m seeing more and more of my clients talk about and evaluate. It’s all about finding and retaining good people. And this is where the trends are in workplace nowadays. You have to consider it if you wanna grow your business. Grace, thanks so much. The work that you guys are doing is fantastic, and we will stay in touch.
Grace: Thank you, Gene. My pleasure.
Gene: Everyone, you’ve been watching and listening to The Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. If you need any tips or advice or help in running your business, please visit us at smallbizahead.com or sba.hartford.com. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you again next time. Take care.
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