The pandemic has clearly changed the workforce. And when it comes to winning the war for talent, employers are facing a reality in which employees want flexibility in when they work, where they work — but what about how long they work? Last week, Praytell CEO Andy Pray announced to his 160-person agency they would pilot a 4-day work week, starting on October 1 through the end of 2021. At that point, leadership will evaluate whether the initiative helps recruit  and retain talent — and that clients don't notice . 

The data points in Pray's favor, according to a recent piece in The Atlantic: "People who work a four-day week generally report that they’re healthier, happier, and less crunched for time; their employers report that they’re more efficient and more focused." Moreover, the 4-day work week has been "an overwhelming success" in Iceland. Also, well before the pandemic, research has shown longer hours backfire. According to a 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review: "the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless."

"We all know the 4-day work week works. We just don't know whether it works for the service business," Pray told PRovoke Media. "That's the big question: can our industry sustain this?"

The firm tested this last year, but the volatility of the early pandemic took its toll, so Pray opted to pause the effort until the business was more stable. "As part of this, I hope is that we remember how good it is to try," Pray added. "And whether it works or not, I want to keep pushing boundaries and we want to make the industry better than one we inherited."

Here's the full Q&A with Pray. 

PRovoke Media: Why did you decide to pilot a 4-day workweek? 

Andy Pray: We tested it last summer with some success and challenges, but admittedly part of our justification back then came from initial pandemic softness on staff allocations. Fast forward to now, we started getting questions internally, asking if we’d ever do it again. With burnout creep in 2021, we felt like it was a moment to give 4-day work week another go, giving our staff the space they deserve and need after such a tough 18 months. Agencies need to act and take big bold swings right now, we like that mindset and we’re ok if it doesn’t work out. Our staff are seeking something different, and this is one of many pilots we’re implementing to adapt and evolve with our people always at the forefront. 

PM: What will it look like — will it be staggered? How will this change agency staffing? 

AP: We’ll start on October 1 giving us time to get teams staffed appropriately building off learnings from our pilot in 2020. We’ll have around 70% of our team working Monday through Thursday and 30% working Tuesday through Friday. Teams will need to be stacked similarly to how they are now, but with a new model of senior coverage across every day of the week to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our deserving client partners and a growing agency.

PM: What is the hit the business will take? Are there short-term hits for long-term gains? 

AP: Honestly, we don’t know. We may lose some profit by increasing our staffing coverage and potentially reducing new business investment time. But on the flip side, we expect retention to increase resulting in more effective teams without wasted time or budget recruiting and onboarding. But given the agency environment we’re all working in, we’re willing to make these investments in our people, because at the end of the day, it’s all about them. And the better they feel, the better our work, which starts a virtuous cycle. 

PM: What feedback have you received from employees so far? From clients? 

AP: Our people are excited and cautiously optimistic for the chance to regain some time back and invest in themselves. We’re an ambitious agency and so this fits our DNA in terms of big swings. But we get it - the service industry isn’t a natural fit for this model, so we all know there will be hiccups and trade-offs. On the client side, last summer we got great feedback from them, and similarly, the handful we’ve sampled this year are super supportive. Our clients are people too - just as exhausted - and their empathy is strong. But the goal is simple - for them to not even notice we’re doing it.

PM: After the pilot, how will you evaluate whether this is a success or not? 

AP: A combination of employee satisfaction, client happiness and business consistency. If our people are happier, our clients felt no drop off - or an improvement - in our product, and our forecast stayed at least even? We’ve got a winner. If not, it’s ok, we have the potential to tweak, or, seek other levers that put our people’s experience first.

PM: I’m assuming this move is being done alongside others to mitigate burnout — what else is Praytell doing?

AP: Everything we can. We’ve revamped our entire org structure to better address staffing, we’re incentivizing time off with weirdo prizes, we’re doing agency wide days of discovery where we subsidize creative outings, we’re declining new business that stresses the system, reducing meeting loads, we’re… we’re doing everything we can. From an industry perspective, this is an area where we can all learn from each other, and I hope that if anyone finds a solution or two, we share.