If you’re a small business owner, you understand very well just how many things must be balanced in order to build a profitable, sustainable company. In pursuit of success, we’re taught, either through school or the School of Hard Knocks, that the customer must be pleased first and foremost (and as a marketing guy, I’ll tell you they should). But we often make the mistake of pleasing the customer ahead of ensuring that our team is happy, healthy and prepared to contribute in ways that ensure the customer is happy and a profit is achieved.
I would argue that both goals should be thought of as a tandem strategy. How could you expect your customers to get the absolute best service if the people serving them are tired, overworked and frustrated by the responsibilities required of them on a daily basis? How could your employees feel motivated to provide efficient, top-notch service to your customers if when they’ve finished the last task for which they are responsible, they’re loaded up with yet another in order to keep them productive?
The power of human potential is truly remarkable. With that potential, we’ve created vast technologies that have increased human productivity as individuals and companies are able to produce more value in less time. This has been historically great for the economy, but most of the benefits of this improved productivity have disproportionately gone to corporate shareholders and c-suite executives. Competitive commerce demands that businesses tap into these efficiencies and extract more productivity, but certainly, there must be a limit to how much added burden we place on our team members.
As technology has proliferated, it has, without question, sped up the pace of work. For the most part, our company operates on a suite of cloud-based software apps: Google for email and collaboration, Slack for team chat, and Asana to tell us what we’re supposed to be doing from moment to moment, along with dozens of other apps. These apps fuel our collaboration, communication, and productivity. Like many other companies, we’ve seen significant leaps in productivity as we’ve introduced new technologies and as we’ve optimized the technology we use to better serve our organization.
Everyone on our team brings a high level of skill and dedication to their work, but each day brings new challenges, every day something different needs to be fixed and every day, at least one email comes into our mobile inboxes after hours. (Most of our employees would report several.) The always-on nature of most of our lives means the first thing we do when we wake in the morning is reach for our smartphone, and it’s often the last item we put down before we go to bed. Let’s face it: we live in a fast-paced world and things aren’t slowing down.
With the need to remain competitive, we expect a lot from our teams, but competition for customers isn’t the only competition we face. The need to balance both customer satisfaction and team member satisfaction is ever-present. If we want to attract the most profitable client opportunities, we must put people in place who will outperform our competition. In order to attract and retain high-performing talent, we must be able to fairly (some would say handsomely) compensate our people, provide an attractive benefits package, and assist team members with achieving their professional and personal goals. But with all things, there is a limit. Could you expect that if you paid an employee twice as much, they would have the ability to double the revenue or profits attributed to their effort? We must give our colleagues sufficient opportunities to recharge.
Then, there is a fairness issue. Instead of increasing the burden on employees as efficiencies are introduced, why wouldn’t we share in the reward of those improvements and allow the technology to reduce the time burden on staff? Is it really that unreasonable that we allow our employees to take three days off for themselves and their families instead of two?
One study, conducted by Microsoft, has indicated that with the time constraint that shorter work weeks introduce, individuals and teams are actually able to get more done in four days than they are in five. With these realities and careful consideration of the balance that we must strike, we began to roll out a four-day workweek on January 1st and plan to have every staff member working no more than four days a week by February.
We’re excited about how this change will improve our business. We are confident that our team members will be happier with the reduced time burden and a more ample ability to recharge. We anticipate that our clients will be greeted with more dedicated client-facing representatives that are better able to serve their needs. We project that we will be able to further boost our own productivity and profitability while also being able to deliver even better outcomes for our clients.
As we began to communicate this change with a select few clients, we were pleasantly surprised that we aren’t the only ones taking on this challenge. As we complete the rollout to our entire team and as we share stories of our success with this effort, we look forward to other clients appreciating the logic behind a four-day workweek and beginning to experiment with their own similar improvements. Perhaps not all businesses can afford to undertake such a dramatic shift and stay in business, but I implore you to think about how you might begin down this path. In an ideal world, we would all tap into the productivity improvements we continue to introduce and take more time for respite and to enjoy the lives we’ve worked so hard to create.