Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs and rethinking what they want when it comes to work and work-life balance. Companies are responding, meeting their employees’ needs in areas like remote work, flexible hours, four-day workweeks, compensation and more. This story is part of a series looking at the “Great Reshuffle” and the shift in workplace culture that is taking place right now.
Online children’s clothing retailer Primary’s four-day workweek was born out of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its employees.
Long days of juggling work and home life were taking their toll.
“Everyone was just really burnt out by the end of the week,” said Christina Carbonell, Primary’s co-founder and co-CEO.
“When folks were coming back in on Monday, people were just not refreshed and it was affecting productivity.”
In May 2020, the New York-based company shortened its workweek and there was an instant change, with people showing up to work rejuvenated. It’s going so well that even after the crisis passes, the perk will still be a part of the company’s culture — at least, as long as it still works the way it’s intended. That means focused employees and no drop in productivity.
“It does feel life-changing, knowing that you have that day to catch up on everything, whether it’s thinking about a hard work problem or grabbing a doctor’s appointment that you haven’t gotten around to,” said Galyn Bernard, co-founder and co-CEO.
Since the retailer is solely online, it doesn’t have to worry about staffing brick-and-mortar shops. It’s 60 employees work Monday through Thursday, except for the support team, which develops a four-day schedule that covers Friday, as well.
Employees get the same pay and don’t extend the hours in the days they are working. Instead, efficiency is key. Meetings have been trimmed and some times have even been blocked off as meeting-free.
Deadlines for seasonal launches weren’t changed and products still arrived to the warehouses on time.
“We didn’t have to back off of our ambition or our goals, or lighten up the workload for people,” Bernard said. “They really rose to the occasion.”
A leg up in the ‘Great Reshuffle’
For Primary’s leadership team, the goal is their employees’ wellness, as well as the company’s overall success.
Yet there has also been an unintended consequence in the era of the “Great Reshuffle,” which has seen Americans walk away from their jobs in record numbers.
“As we’ve looked back over the last couple of years, what we’ve seen is our attrition rate staying pretty flat, which I consider a huge win,” said Cap Watkins,’ the company’s chief experience officer.
As for job seekers and new hires, many of them are skeptical of the policy at first.
“The response from new hires is that it seems too good to be true; they can’t believe that we actually do it,” Carbonell said.
“It certainly is appealing to everyone who is looking to find the right balance in their lives.”
A movement underway
U.S. companies that have four-day workweeks are few and far between, yet there has been a slow buildup of interest.
In addition to the handful or so of employers that already offer the shortened week, 35 companies in North America are set to start a trial of the initiative in April. It’s part of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global‘s program, which also has pilots around the world, including one just underway in Ireland and one starting in the United Kingdom in June.
The idea of a four-day workweek, which has been around since well before the pandemic, gained traction as the crisis changed the way people thought about their lives. There’s now a culture shift underway as employers respond to meet employees’ needs and address their well-being.
“People are coming to the idea that we need to be better in the workplace,” said Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College who will be conducting research on the global four-day workweek trials.
“We need to be humane.”
Primary’s co-founders agree.
“Throughout the pandemic, people will ask, ‘when are you going back?'” Carbonell said.
“For us, there’s not really a ‘going back,'” she added. “There’s just sort of a new way forward that lets us imagine a new way for us to work.”
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.