Moving your agency to a 4-day work week

With all of the talk about the Great Resignation and the challenges many agencies are having hiring and retaining workers, is now the time to adopt a 4-day work week?

What are the pros and cons of this policy — and is it even feasible for most agencies?

Chip and Gini tackle the idea that has become part of the conversation in many workplaces.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin  

And if you’re listening to us, then the clickbait worked. So we’ll talk more about the actual topic right after this we are not above clickbait headlines, so you’re not. So that’s what we went with. We are going to be talking about the four day workweek, which I know all of you would love to have. It’s like a popular topic of conversation. Four days, four hours, let’s go. Let’s go all the way back. wonderful book, The Four Hour Workweek the biggest piece of trash I’ve ever read.

Gini Dietrich  

Tell us how you really feel about it.

Chip Griffin  

i It’s what I blogged about it at the time. In fact, I think that the way I let it off was the book suggested that if you found something to be a waste of time, just stop it. And so I said, so I stopped reading at that point. Yeah, it was, it was a waste of my time. They weren’t were some good ideas in there. But you know, the the whole four hour workweek is just is a dumb idea. I mean, it’s not. It’s not realistic.

Gini Dietrich  

It’s really just like, click Beatty.

Chip Griffin  

Yes. Yeah, it wasn’t really I didn’t read it was actually at the book was actually advocating that you could do, you could work

Gini Dietrich  

just for hours or hours. How short?

Chip Griffin  

I mean? Well, you could if you could charge on out for those four hours that it covered, whatever you wanted to earn. I mean, you can work just four hours a week? Absolutely. You just have to either be able to charge through the nose for those four hours, or you have to not want to make very much. So you certainly could do it if those if those are criteria you want want to meet. But unfortunately, that books set an unrealistic expectation for people. So let’s talk about something that is a little bit more realistic. It’s in the realm of reality, the four day workweek. And there has been a lot of conversation lately, as people are thinking about, you know, what is what is the new work look like? Post pandemic, assuming we ever come out of the pandemic or you know, whatever it becomes, you know, how do we how do we structure work generally, and agencies are are, you know, trying to think creatively. And so I know a number of them are thinking about the idea of a four day work week? And is that something that could work to give the team some more flexibility to have a better opportunity to attract talent, all those different kinds of things. So the four day workweek, what are your thoughts?

Gini Dietrich  

You know, I’m, I am a fan, I have tried for many, many years to figure out how to make that work. We do summer hours, on Fridays during the summer. And what we started with was half a day, like we would close the office at one every Friday. And that worked pretty well. And so we were like, Okay, well, let’s like, you know, clients are gone Friday afternoons to during the summer. So it didn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal. So then we said, Okay, well, let’s just be closed all of Friday. And that didn’t work at all. Because clients, there are still there’s still work to be done. And there’s still clients still have expectations. And there’s you know, so what we ended up doing is doing half and half. So you would we would do every other week. So if you had this Friday off, I would have next Friday off and we would rotate right so and that that works pretty well, because then things recovered. But we only do it for the summer, we started after Memorial Day and ended Labor Day. I think the bigger challenge is that because we’re in client service. And because clients aren’t working five days a week, they’re not super keen to hear, Oh, we’re closed on Friday. They don’t they don’t care. They want the work done. Right. Right. And you still have all the work to do. So then what I found was people were working on Sundays, and then they were all stressed out because they weren’t getting their work done. And so we have not figured out the right formula for that I would still love to be able to but we just have not figured it out.

Chip Griffin  

In the end, I think we’re in Yeah, I think you’ve touched on the important aspect of this is that it’s not really just our decision. Right? When you’re when you’re in business, you have to think about your clients, your customers, whatever. And so, you know, a restaurant, a restaurant could certainly be open four days a week. The question is, can they generate enough revenue in those four days? Will their you know, customers still stick with them? You know, if I’ve got a grocery store, if I only open four days a week, that’s gonna be a real challenging business to run. Yeah, right. Yeah. And so so in the agency world, we serve clients. And so as long as our clients by and large are on five day work weeks, it’s difficult for us to go Yeah, to at least a pure four day and so I think what you’ve described where it’s sort of, you know, a hybrid four day if you will, where you get four days every other week and someone else’s covering for you or you know, you know, shifted schedule so that there’s always coverage during that Monday through Friday, traditional work week, and we can certainly have a debate at some point over whether five day workweeks make sense generally and right. They’ve been around for a long time, we’re not going to change them on our own. So until it changes around us, right? You know, it’s hard to be a trailblazer when you’re an agency, because you are serving the clients, and particularly the more that you’re in things like public relations, you’re already five days is even tough anyway, right? Because if your client has a media relations issue on a weekend, you can say, I’m sorry. Oh, sorry. I only, you know, no, no crises on the weekend. Sorry. Get through it.

Gini Dietrich  

Or no events, the same events? Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I agree with you. I think it’s pretty challenging. And the other the other challenge that we have is we work with an international clients. So you know, in many cases, there are seven or nine hours ahead of us. And so they don’t, they don’t care, because not only is it an inconvenience for them, because they have to wait for us to wake up by the time they’re going. They’re leaving work, but then to hear us say, Oh, well, we’re not open on Fridays. No, that’s not.

Chip Griffin  

Right. Well, and the challenge with international too, is there are parts of the world that are not Monday through Friday for their workweek. That’s true. So when I was doing a lot of international business, there was a window of time on Saturday, when everybody was closed. It was a very short window on Saturday. And that was it, because there are parts of the world that are, you know, Sunday through Thursday for the workweek. And so if you’re doing a lot of international business with those countries, enjoy your Saturday. As much as you can. Yeah. It’s true, because by 10 o’clock at night, your clients are probably coming online, you know, for the start of their work week on on their Sunday morning. Yep, yep. Yeah. So so it is it is so dependent upon who you’re serving. And I think that is going to drive how much flexibility agencies have into the future.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I will also say that, you know, I think, I think many of us, myself included, are looking at, you know, hybrid work hours as well to accommodate like, I always joke that school is not made for working parents, because they started 830. And they’re out by 245. And you’re like, I, I can’t, this is not how the workday flows, you can’t like so, you know, we, we try to accommodate, you know, what I would call non traditional hours or flex hours, so that you can handle those kinds of things during the day. But I’ve also found that people, some people, not everybody, some people take advantage of that, where they’re like, oh, I can work non traditional hours. So I’ll just work all night, and not and, and then do my stuff during the day with my family and not pay attention to you during the day. And that doesn’t work either. Like, you have to you still have to be available during working hours, and not, you know, doing doing your work in nahj in the in the night during the night time. So that we get that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because you have stuff coming up, you have meetings that need to be scheduled, you have you know, emails that need to go out, you have work that needs to get done. And it can’t wait till two o’clock in the morning, in most cases.

Chip Griffin  

Right. And I think that the that’s one of the fundamental challenges that agencies have, because I think by and large agency owners, agency employees would love to have more flexibility in how when where your work is done. But how do you do that in such a way that you’re giving the, you know, an amount of freedom, that makes sense, but doesn’t hold up the rest of the team, right? Because your particular example, let’s say that you don’t even have necessarily meetings that you have to go to, and you maybe you’re doing something, maybe you’re doing writing, and so if you do it at two o’clock in the morning, it’s okay, it’s still potentially holding up something else in the process. Because if the rest of the team is looking for that information, and they don’t get it till two o’clock in the morning, now they’re into the next business day before they can work with it. Right if they’re working more traditional hours. And so trying to figure out how how all these different puzzle pieces fit together, you know, becomes the real challenge. And I think that that agency leaders are really going to struggle with this in the the months and years to come. Trying to figure out how can I give you the freedom that you’re looking for? And that by and large makes sense, but still make sure that it fits into the overall picture of what we’re doing as a business?

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I mean, you still have to run your business, you still have to do the work, you still have to keep clients happy. You still have to be available. And so if you can figure out a four day work week, and maybe it is some sort of hybrid where it’s not every week, like we do during the summer, maybe it’s something like that, but it has like be to be able to say we are only open Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday or whatever happens to be I think for for the work that we do is extraordinarily challenging.

Chip Griffin  

Absolutely. I think there are ways that you can Again, to test it, though, right without fully going to so for example, you could declare that that Fridays are a no meeting day. So you don’t schedule them with your own team and you do everything you can to avoid scheduling client meetings on Friday or Monday or whatever day of the week that you decide is going to be the end. So at some point, if you look at everyone’s calendars, and they’re pretty light, you know, maybe now you can just go to an on call system, you know, for that day that you’ve carved out. So there are, there are many steps that you can use to test it out and set yourself up for it. If it’s something that you’re thinking. And certainly I would encourage doing things like that, as opposed to just saying, you know, starting January one, were Monday through Thursday, everybody, I think you can, I think you can try some of those things, to see how practical it is for you and your clients. Because it really is a case by case situation, depending on the kinds of clients you have. And you know, the kind of work that you do. I mean, how much interaction do you need to have with clients on a day to day basis? how responsive to real time events argument if you’re, if you’re building large websites, and it’s you know, it’s not a real time interaction? You might be okay. You’re doing crisis PR, number five, your 720 you’re 24/7 Regardless of what you want, right? Yeah, yeah, I mean, that’s just that is the reality of that kind of agency. So a lot of it is going to depend. And, you know, we always like to end the show. But I think you can take some of those steps to try out the theory and see how much flexibility you actually have to, to re engineer things for your agency business.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I will tell you, there are some things you can do from a client perspective, too, because I have a client who loves, loves, loves, loves their five o’clock Friday afternoon meetings, why anybody wants to have a meeting at five o’clock on Friday. It’s still beyond me. So when I when we started working with them, I said to them, we don’t do we do not do meetings past noon on Friday. So if you want us in that meeting, you’re going to have to change it. And all of a sudden, they all went, Oh, this is much better. Why were we doing meetings at five o’clock on Fridays? Because you’re stupid. That’s why you’re stupid.

Chip Griffin  

Right? Well, and protect that goes to the challenge that a lot of agencies have it that they just, you know, they salute every request that a client gives them. They don’t they don’t push back. They don’t say, Hey, how about this or that or? And I think that clients are much more willing to be accommodating for the most part, right? Not all of them all of the time. Yes. But but they are far more understanding that we give them credit for in and before we simply say yes, to a request that we know is going to make us unhappy or team unhappy. It’s going to make our lives difficult. Why not at least try? Yeah, to set yourself up for success?

Gini Dietrich  

Absolutely. You know, and what we found in that particular instance, is that the the leadership team who had required the meetings, everybody else below them was like, Thank you, because nobody had ever said, why are we doing this and it was just convenient to the to the execs it wasn’t convenient for anybody else. And so ever. Everybody was very grateful from that perspective. But listen, if you want me and my brain to be thinking really strategically, five o’clock on Friday is not the right time. That’s just not because I’m dead by then. So

Chip Griffin  

well, and but that’s a great point that you’ve made there too, because so often as the outside adviser, we have more leverage to correct some of the decisions that senior management makes. Because while we are beholden to them for our contracts, they don’t sign our paycheck every week. And that does change the dynamic. And so a lot of times I’ve found, particularly when I’m coming into a new relationship with an agency, if I can figure out from the team, things that they wanted to do or wanted to change, that that I can simply say, Yeah, we should change that. It can help get things across the goal line that maybe they’ve wanted to do all along, but didn’t have either the leverage the courage or whatever to do. And so you can then build some real allies, within your clients business by doing those things. So you know, whether that’s meeting times or something else, discover those help them out, and it helps you out.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I to that point, I always say, you know, to, usually to the the mid level, employees for our clients, I will say, Listen, this isn’t fair. It’s not right. But it’s human nature. If there are things that you want done, or things that you need accomplished, or decisions you may need made, let me or my team handle it for you because as the quote unquote consultant, we are seeing it at a different level and it’s not right and it’s not fair. But that’s just how it works. So I have that conversation all the time. Like if you don’t want to have five o’clock on Friday meetings, let’s get

Chip Griffin  

right on it. I remembered in one of my very early jobs, they had a management consultant come in to try to figure out how operations could improve. And I remember hating it at the time, oh god, this is so painful that I got to have these meetings with this person and, and then I quickly realized just that, that they were perceived differently. And so every other time I encountered that over the course of my career, I just used it to my advantage, because I said, You know what, I can just tell them what it is that I need to need done. And more often than not, they’re gonna take it and run with it. Yep, you know, and you got to figure out each individual consultant, because some are is open, as you and I are, where it’s just like, just, you know, tell me what I need to be bad cop on, I’m happy to do it. Yep. Sometimes, you have to help them think it’s their own idea. And that’s fine, too. I mean, you know, I play internal politics if I have to. But but, you know, use those to your advantage as an agency, because it gives you more power to be successful, but it also strengthens the relationship with the people that you’re going to be working with every day. And, and oftentimes, we think so much as an agency about pleasing the decision maker, that we forget that the real people that we need to keep happy are the folks we’re working with every day. Yep. Because if they become squeaky wheels, and keep complaining about us, that’s gonna end the relationship faster than everything else, because they’re much more willing to fire an agency than an internal employee, it’s a whole lot less painful for them nine times out of 10. And most businesses will allow all sorts of problem employees to stick around. And the agency is the one that loses out. So don’t let yourself be in that circumstance.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah. And I will. I mean, I think it takes, it certainly takes a level of confidence. But I think you’re right, I think that as agency leaders, we’re in a position to be able to do those kinds of things and make those kinds of changes. Can we go in and say, Alright, you guys, we want to be closed, we want to do a four day work week. So you should do a four day work week to like, that’s probably not gonna happen. No. But you know, there are changes you can make, I think, yeah,

Chip Griffin  

and it’s important to lay the groundwork early in a relationship if you can, right. So if you, if when you start working with a client, you say, you know, we don’t do meetings on Fridays, that’s our day to do internal work, or Mondays or, you know, whatever it is, or, you know, maybe it’s in my case, I try to avoid meetings on Monday morning and Friday afternoon, because I like to have the beginning and end of the week to either kick it off, you know, the way I want to or wrap it up. So I don’t feel like things are overhanging me on the weekend. And but whatever works for you and your team, just lay those ground rules out and do whatever you can to protect those, you know, whether it’s meeting times, I don’t do 7am meetings or you know, whatever. lay those out from the beginning, and you’ll be in much better shape. If you say all well, you know, it’s just I’m going to make an exception, I’ll do a 7am meeting, you know, because we’re just getting started. We’re everybody’s enthusiastic, and I don’t want to hold things up. Yes, what you’re gonna be doing seven, long time, right? Because you created the expectation, you do 7am meetings. And so next time when they ask for it, what do you say? It’s, I mean, you certainly can push back, it’s a lot more difficult once you’ve saved

Gini Dietrich  

a lot more difficult. Yeah, we had a client like that, where I allowed myself to get suckered in. And it she would schedule two and a half hour meetings. And in the beginning, I was like, okay, like, I can do two and a half hour meetings, because we, there’s a lot I need, we need to get through. And we have lots of decisions to make and stuff like that. But you know, three months into the relationship, two and a half hour meetings. First of all, nobody has time for that. And secondly, that you didn’t, there was no need for them. So I started to push back and say like, we just need a half an hour here and a half an hour there to get. And she she did not like that, because she didn’t get her two and a half hour therapy session every week. And I was like, I can’t, I can’t continue to do this. But it was extraordinarily hard for me to change that after the fact. And if I had just said at the beginning, we can do a half an hour on Tuesday and Thursday. That’s it.

Chip Griffin  

Right? And and it’s it really is tough because people don’t even think about it after a while, right. So there was when I was doing a lot of the international work or, you know, halfway around the world I was doing occasional 4am conference calls. Yeah. That’s a miserable thing to do, even though I’m generally up pretty early anyway. miserable. Talking to people at that time. No. And it was it was one of those things where, you know, it was just it was one of those I got an email one day and said, Oh, we can just hop on the phone now because I was it was a good convenient time. For me. I knew I had a busy day ahead, let’s just do it. But then in their mind, oh, well you’re available. And so now we’ll just schedule them for for you find those kinds of things. And so then you have to unlearn that behavior for them. Right and and train them in a different way. And that is far more difficult. So you’re, you’re far better off if you set those expectations early, particularly if you’re thinking about doing something you know, more creative with how you’re managing your team, like a four day workweek, like flexible hours, all those kinds of things, the more rules process, whatever that you can put around it so that your whole team is you know, rowing in the same direction, the more likely you are To be successful.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I think boundaries are good experts setting expectations up front are good. And like you said, clients tend to be pretty open to that stuff at the beginning of the relationship. So set the boundaries, set expectations, like I say to my team all the time, if you want to answer emails, after dinnertime, or while you’re watching TV at night, whatever it happens to be, that’s fine. But schedule them, because if you don’t schedule them, and you send them at nine o’clock at night, the clients going to expect that you’re going to be working at nine o’clock every night so that we have those conversations all the time, because I have I have team members who are night owls and like to do that. And I always say, that’s fine, you can do that.

Chip Griffin  

That was that was a lesson I learned many years ago because I I often responded whenever I would get something because I just died. It was easier for me just to respond and get it off my plate and go years ago was a lot harder to schedule responses. Yeah, but unfortunately, I ended up conditioning clients, coworkers, other people to believe that I was essentially always available, right. And I don’t mind that because I am, you know, a workaholic, and I don’t care and all that kind of stuff. It just made it difficult because I got tied up on something and wasn’t able to respond not because I was choosing not to work, but because I was working on something else. They then said, Well, we were just we were so surprised. We didn’t hear from you. And so then you get the follow up emails. You know what? Why don’t you respond to this? Well, because I was actually doing something else. And it’s 10 o’clock at night, like

Gini Dietrich  

I’ve conditioned you to be worried when I don’t respond at 10 o’clock at night, which is ridiculous.

Chip Griffin  

Right? Exactly. So you have to think about those things. And the more that you set those up, the more ability that you have to be creative and doing the things that you need to do in order to structure your team and their work hours and all of that in a way that is conducive to both producing great results for your clients as well as helping you with recruitment and retention of the talent. Because that’s so difficult right now, you have to be thinking creatively. It just requires a lot of moving pieces to come together in the right way.

Gini Dietrich  

Yep, yep. So set expectations, set your boundaries, help clients understand why you’re doing something. And I’m sure in most cases, not all most cases, they’ll be happy to accommodate.

Chip Griffin  

And hopefully people will be happy that they clicked on this click baby headline to come listen to this episode, Agency Leadership Podcast, but that will draw this episode to a close because well, I mean, I only plan to work four days this week. So

Gini Dietrich  

I’m only four hours. So I’m done. This is my fourth hour.

Chip Griffin  

That’s more than you usually work so it is on that note. I’m Chip Griffin 

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich, 

Chip Griffin  

and it depends.

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