“I can’t think of any negatives”: How the four-day working week could change agency life
Even though it often seems there are never enough hours in the day already, Mitchel White argues how the four-day working week could be the best foot forward for our increasingly burned out creative industry.
Although a weekly practice adopted by many sectors, it’s rare to hear of an agency or studio adopting a four-day working week in the creative field. In recent years the concept – in which a company compresses or reduces the working hours of the week to offer employees a three-day weekend – is an approach increasingly adopted. Take its “overwhelming” successes in Iceland or Finland for example, and the fact it’s currently being trialled in the UK. Employees clearly want it, too, with 95 per cent of our Balancing Act survey respondents stating they want to work a four-day week themselves.
However when the logistics begin to be discussed less are so sure. Only 66 per cent of respondents said they believed a four-day week would actually work, with even fewer (27 per cent) feeling their employer would support such a change. One team leader who is showcasing its possibilities however is Mitchel White, managing director of Manchester-based agency Reward. In this article, Mitchel puts forward the reasons which led to his agency trialling and then implementing a four-day working week since 2021.
If, like me, you run an agency you’re probably aware of the constant state of overwhelm. The endless to-do list, the constant battle with time, and the inner creative vs business person conversations which quarrel in your head 24/7.
March 2020 amplified these overwhelming thoughts to the point where something had to change. Those early days of the pandemic were tough. At our agency, Reward, we had clients cancel contracts in a state of panic. My anxiety increased as the sales pipeline began to dry up, mixed in with worry over the impact of my own health, being HIV positive and on the clinically vulnerable list. The first UK lockdown was quite a dark time.
To combat it, home workouts, sunny walks along the canal and self-care all became routine. You know, all that looking after yourself to try and counteract the anxiety and worry. But old habits die hard, especially as things settle and start to return to some sort of version of normality. At this point, I felt the need to push whilst the sun was shining. Businesses who had never thought they needed to adapt were turning to digital strategies, our focus at Reward. We were in high demand, growing like crazy. Oh hi, overworking and “the grind” there you are again.
As we headed into 2021, I couldn’t get to the end of a full week without a mini-meltdown. Tuesday afternoons were a particular favourite. Intrusive thoughts of “I’m not doing this anymore” or “I can’t cope with it all” shouted over any kind of Headspace session I’d put on in an attempt to climb down from the latest mini mental breakdown. Enter the four-day working week.
The concept of a four-day working week isn’t anything new, it’s been around in other countries for decades. But it’s always something I’ve watched from afar, thinking it would never be possible in such an intense agency world. I had the same thought you’re likely having now: How could we possibly adopt a four-day working week when there aren’t enough hours in the day already?
But why not give it a go? What’s the worst that could happen? Well, quite a lot actually. The team could hate the idea. Our clients could be turned off by the whole idea. We might not be able to deliver our work on time which could lead to more stress. But something needed to be done to resolve the issues I was facing personally. The reasons for implementing the four-day week initially were selfish. I needed a change.
The first step was to announce the idea to our team. Immediately surprised (it wasn’t a process we had even discussed briefly before), they too worried how we would get everything done, how our clients would react, if they would in fact assume that we were reducing our hours due to not having enough work to sustain a five-day week. Still locked down at this point, communicating via a video call allowed us to answer any questions, explain the reasons and put minds at rest – we’d test it first, of course.
We started a four-week trial where the agency would close on Wednesdays. We moved from a 40 hour week to a 30 hour week with no reduction in salary. During the first week, we spoke with clients individually and discussed the reasons why we were trialling the concept. Surprisingly, they were intrigued by the idea; some had even been thinking about how they could implement it themselves.
The first couple of weeks were a little strange. “Wednesday Guilt” became a thing. Thursday morning catchup calls centred around a weird feeling evoked when you’re doing your weekend washing and chores on a Wednesday, when everyone else is working… British people aye? It took some time for clients to get used to us not being available on-demand, too. We did get the occasional Wednesday email, but an out of office for the whole team explaining why we weren’t around helped everyone understand. Within a couple of weeks everyone, including our clients, was on board with the idea.
Now a year later, we still run a four-day, 30-hour working week. With no reduction in salary, with the agency closing on Wednesdays, we’re more productive, relaxed and happier. The quality of work we produce has improved. Team wellbeing has never been better and our client NPS scores are at all-time highs.
Before we work with any clients, we tell them about our four-day working week and explain how it has a positive impact on our team and the work we produce. I still think some potential clients think we’re lazy and just fancy a day off, but just like everything in life, some people will get it, some won’t. But, when they do, it’s one of the reasons they choose to work with us over the thousands of other agencies. It’s a point of differentiation. One that shows we take the wellbeing of our team seriously.
If you’re thinking about your own four-day working week, I encourage you to at least trial it. Every agency or studio is different, but it’s had a huge positive impact on Reward, and everyone in it. If you’re looking for next steps, take a look at The 4 Day Week Campaign. It has some great explainer videos from the perspective of employees and employers with a directory of employers who have adopted the working model. Starting with a short trial should also reduce any barriers by explaining to bosses that, if it’s not right, it doesn’t have to become a permanent fixture.
From attracting and retaining talent to winning new clients and staying sane, I couldn’t recommend it enough. I can’t think of any negatives when I think about the four-day working week. I have lapsed a little in the past few weeks and do occasionally reply to emails, but replacing the constant calls and daily decisions with midday gym visits and walks with the dog is definitely what I needed.
The Balancing Act
The Balancing Act is an Extra Nice supported editorial series by It’s Nice That investigating how our industry has altered since the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020. Developed from a survey shared with our readers, the resulting pieces are a reflection of the way the creative industry was feeling two years later.
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About the Author
Mitchel White is the Managing Director at sustainable branding and marketing agency Reward, helping conscious DTC brands stand out in overcrowded digital spaces. Since founding the agency in 2014, he has worked with brands, including Europe’s leading online destination for fashion Zalando, multi million pound ecommerce brands and exciting DTC startups. His work has been featured on Forbes, The Telegraph and IndieHackers and is the author of the best selling ethical marketing book Serve.