On May 1st, we intend to be Ireland’s first PR agency to offer a four-day week with full salary to all our teammates. We take a holistic approach to our people and by prioritising everybody’s wellbeing, we can ensure that each individual feels taken care of, engaged and full of positive energy… great for our company, great for our people, great for our clients.
Prioritising our people’s needs is nothing new for Comit. Flexibility has always been part of our PR agency DNA. People choose their own starting and finishing times, and how long they take lunch, and we have always given our people their birthdays off, for example.
Our “birthday off” approach was, in fact, part of the inspiration for our new ‘Freedom Fridays’. We were trying to imagine how we could evolve this concept that everybody loves into something more frequent – a lot more frequent than a one-off annual event.
The answer was for us to move to a four-day week, and as we approach May 1st, the excitement is building. We are all imagining how we might like to enjoy our new Freedom Fridays! Each of us has our own plan. Sarah is planning hikes. Rebecca is getting back into baking again (she has promised to treat us to her famous lemon drizzle cake).
How would you spend your Freedom Fridays? Running, spinning, golfing, learning guitar, playing video games, surfing, a long lunch with your friends, hanging out with the kids, or simply catching up on shopping and the life admin that gets in the way of more fulfilling weekends and evenings… or maybe like me, it’s a mix of the above.
How the four-day week plan was developed
We participated in The Breakthrough Innovation programme run by Dublin BIC last year. We did it so that we could reimagine our working model to maximise flexibility for our team, while finding new sources of customer value and innovation, and better ways to deliver our service.
We looked at how our lives have changed so dramatically since the pandemic hit. We all have started to enjoy more flexibility, more time to ourselves and more with our families and friends. The ways we interact and work have also changed.
In addition, all our research pointed to the fact that digitalisation and data analytics are enabling PR agencies to deliver significantly more impact and growth for clients. They also offer opportunities to empower PR agency professionals to achieve more with their time by removing some of the less interesting and repetitive tasks.
PR agency innovation
The four-day week was one of three breakthrough innovation plays that we committed to from the programme. At first, a four-day week seemed like it could be very difficult to achieve: could we be the first PR agency in Ireland to move to a four-day week, while maintaining full pay and the same productivity levels and service?
We were unsure, but the more we looked into it, the more people we spoke to who have done it; the more we thought about our own team, their maturity, and the hugely positive impact it could make on them; and the more it seemed like it might just be possible.
In particular, we were fortunate that one of our professional IT services clients, Typetec, announced their own four-day week last December. They have given us lots of great advice and helpful information. Have a listen to Typetec’s Ken Tormey announcing it on RTÉ Morning Ireland.
When we shared the idea with our team and clients, and teased out the upsides and potential pitfalls, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The ability to service clients well was foremost in our thoughts, and it was critical that we hit upon a formula that met their needs and ensured that we would be available to deliver a fantastic service to them when they require it.
Our solution is to always have at least one person in the office on a Friday, and if something emerges that needs to be attended to – managing a crisis situation, issuing a press release, or attending an event, for example – we will take care of this.
I should stress that we are not going for a compressed schedule, where people are expected to compress 40 hours into four days, and we are not asking people to work more than the usual eight-hour day, however there will be times when people may want to put in a little extra to ensure that we can make this trial viable for the long term. This will only work if we are able to deliver a service to customers as and when they need it. We all understand that this will mean that every now and then, we need to fire up the laptop or meet a client on a Friday, or maybe plug a couple of extra hours in at some other time in the week so that we can maintain our productivity goals.
Everything signalled that a four-day week was the right thing to do. So here we are, six months later and on the verge of kicking it off at the start of May. Initially we will trial it for six months and, assuming everybody is happy with it (especially our clients and team) and we can maintain our business and productivity goals, we will roll with it.
Here are 10 reasons why a four-day week is good for a PR agency like Comit:
1. Happier staff – a more productive PR agency
Happiness is increasingly recognised as a key factor in successful businesses and there is an increasing trend for large companies to appoint Chief Happiness Officers. For us, Freedom Fridays will allow our teammates to focus on their personal lives and on things they enjoy. We know from research that employees who spend more time with their family and friends, enjoy hobbies and exercise all receive a boost in general happiness and satisfaction. This is proven to provide a boost to productivity, with a 2019 study into happiness and productivity showing that employees are 13 percent more productive when happy.
2. A four-day week increases employee wellbeing
More free time to rest and recover is known to reduce stress, improve people’s general health and reduce sick leave.A study from New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian, which was reported in The Guardian, showed that a four-day week reduced employee stress levels from 45% to 38%. As a result, people come to work feeling energised and ready to take on the needs of their clients with gusto and to tackle new challenges. A few years ago, Sweden trialled a reduced work week in a healthcare environment. Nurses worked only six hours, five days a week. Results showed that they had fewer sick hours, reported better health and mental wellbeing, and showed greater engagement as they arranged 85% more activities for patients in their care.
3. Better PR and communications results
Happy, energised, more engaged staff produce better results – fact! PRWeek recently reported on the experience of a creative agency called Lux which went for the four-day week. Lux co-founder, Alice Will commented on their experience. She thinks that the four-day week “fuels creativity: people are more energised and refreshed, which enables them to bring their best self to work”. She said that “a culture of being output-focused as opposed to being judged on the amount of hours you put in shifted everyone’s mindset. Our time is precious in the day and we work to maximise it.” Although not directly comparable with the PR agency world, the Microsoft test of a four-day week Japan in 2019 is instructive. It led to a 40% improvement in sales per employee compared with the previous comparable period.
4. Retain best PR agency professionals with a four-day week
We have a really strong team of public relations professionals in Comit. We give them autonomy and freedom to make decisions and manage their time. We value them and we are intent on ensuring that we continue to offer them a progressive PR agency environment that is very attractive. A Harvard Business Review found that more flexible work and additional time off were two of the top three most sought after job benefits. We know that balancing work and life is very important to people and research proves that employees of companies with four-day weeks achieve a much better work/life balance. New Zealand’s aforementioned Perpetual Guardian that moved to a four-day week found that 78% of its people could achieve balance in their work and home life, up from 54% before the trial.
5. Attract best PR agency people
Our ability to provide the best service possible to clients hinges not just on our ability to retain our best people, it is also dependent on our ability to attract great new teammates so we can continue to grow at a pace that suits our clients and our business. The Breakthrough Innovation programme will result in some great new services being launched here in Comit, and this means that we will be looking for new talent offering new skillsets. The 4/day week organisation carried out a survey which found that jobs offering a four-day week attract at least 33% more applicants. Another survey by ZipRecruiter shows that four-day week job posts achieve a 15% uplift in candidate interest compared to five-day week jobs.
6. Workplace equality with a four-day week
We believe that the four-day week will have a significant impact on the lives of everyone, and especially parents and care givers. For example, women and men with dependants, will have the option of spending an additional day a week with them. In turn, the four-day week can enable team members and/or their partners to make better choices about their careers, and as argued by the World Economic Forum, help level the playing field in a way that other gender equality strategies have yet to manage.
7. A greener and more sustainable PR agency
As Sustainability Awareness Ambassadors for Techies Go Green, we spend time every month pondering climate and environment related issues and challenges, and the data now proves that the four-day week is a significant tool to combat climate change. A recent report by Platform London discovered that moving to a four-day week by 2025 would result in a reduction in a country’s carbon footprint of 20%+. Just think of the impact of reduced travel, lower consumption of packaged food and beverages, reduction in printing, as well as the fall in the power use by energy intensive workplaces five days a week. According to The Independent, a trial in the state of Utah found that in just 10 months, $1.8M was saved in energy costs and that didn’t include the energy saved with reduced commutes. When that is added in, the overall saving was calculated at 12,000 metric tons of C02, or the equivalent to taking more than 2,000 cars off the road.
8. Pride in your PR agency
The reaction to our four-day week initiative from everybody – including clients, friends and family – has been overwhelmingly positive. There is a huge sense that as Ireland’s first PR agency to announce a four-day week, we are taking a progressive role in our industry. We all want to be associated with a company that is part of a movement for positive change. We know from research that pride in your company is the number one factor that inspires engagement from employees. We also know that people who are proud of their company are much more likely to champion it to others. At New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian, switching to a four-day work week resulted in a 20% increase in employees’ commitment to their employer and a 5% increase in employee engagement.
9. More focused at work
Other findings from the Perpetual Guardian study found that employees in companies offering a four-day week spent less time doing things that distracted them from work. They put their personal phones away, they spent 35% less time on non-work-related websites. Imagine having an extra day in the week for booking holidays, doing online shopping, renewing driving licenses, attending appointments and completing other life admin tasks that need to be done, but can often interrupt the flow of our work.
10. Four-day weeks help us give back to our local community
Making a positive impact in our community is part of the Comit mission. We expect that the four-day week will see some of our colleagues spend a portion of their newfound Freedom Friday time engaging in community activities for the broader good. Maybe that will be training their local GAA team or helping a local charity. This of course is up to each individual, but we feel that the community dividend opportunity cannot be overlooked.
We know from our conversations with agencies who have trialled the four-day week in other countries that it will take a month or so for our people to adjust to the new pattern and work rhythm. Once that happens, we believe that our amazing colleagues will be able to fully enjoy the best-possible work/life balance.
As a business, we have carefully calculated potential downsides and have planned measures to ensure they don’t derail this initiative. While we will restructure the working week so that Mondays to Thursdays become the core working days, clients can be reassured that each one of us is available on Fridays as needed, with at least one of the team in the office.
We are excited by the impact that the four-day week can make on our ability to attract and retain the best talent in our sector, as well as on our ability to achieve measurable creativity, productivity, and ultimately client satisfaction gains.
Our expectation is that Freedom Fridays will enable colleagues to enjoy more quality time for hobbies, friends, families etc., but with the full and shared understanding that our clients will continue to receive the highest levels of service at all times.