Rich Leigh, founder and CEO of Radioactive PR, took the bold decision to implement four-day weeks at work without cutting pay. HR Zone caught up with him to find out how he managed it

1) What made you decide to trial four-day weeks?

A couple of months ago, I asked myself – if today was ‘day zero’, and tomorrow day one, what kind of business would I build, knowing what I now know?

I thought long and hard about what the three and a half years have taught me, and what could be done differently. I kept coming back to work-life balance and…

Three day weekend

I proposed that we go down to a four-day work week.

As in, we won’t work Fridays anymore – and it won’t impact staff salaries in any way.

It started with me thinking about us already finishing at 4pm on Fridays, wondering how we’d fare if we went down to a half day, and has gone from there.

Why? How do you get happy clients? Great work. How do you get great work? A happy team.

Presenteeism is good for nothing and nobody.

Technology was supposed to give us a better work-life balance. If anything, it’s made it worse. In a broader context, I think that getting rewarded for being good at your job has been replaced by a culture that celebrates being wedded to your job, above all else. Presenteeism is good for nothing and nobody.

I, as an employer, just went along with it, because a five-day work week is the norm. I think we can, at this size, make a change that stays with us as we grow.

Releases never go out on Fridays, after all, and we can… get everything done in the days we ARE in, and if anything crops up and can’t wait, we’re on it.

  1. What were the biggest challenges? How were they overcome?

The biggest challenge was in ensuring that client results weren’t affected negatively! It really was a case of making sure our time management was as good as it could be, and ensuring that we communicated clearly and regularly with clients.

  1. How did clients respond – were they happy with it? 

Brilliantly, on the whole, with a few ‘erm, OK, let’s see how it goes, shall we?’ responses initially, as you’d expect with something like this, that’s a bit different to what people are used to.

I sent surveys at multiple stages, predominantly to do with results and communication as a direct result of the trial, and at each stage, the majority of clients were very positive and comfortable with the trial.

Every single person said they’d enjoyed a better work-life balance

The most telling fact was that each client that responded said they would feel comfortable with us continuing it.

One of our clients said: ”I think this a BRILLIANT initiative and am very proud to be working with a partner that is trying to push the boundaries on the ‘norm’. We offer a 24/7 support service so this wouldn’t be as easy for us to do, however we are investigating solutions. Go for it, and trail blaze!” 

  1. How did it impact team morale?

At the end of the trial, each staff member completed an anonymous survey, with multiple questions around their experience, thoughts about client activity, how they’d found it and more.

Every single person said they’d enjoyed a better work-life balance during the trial, and everybody said they’d felt ‘more relaxed at home as a result of the trial’.

Given work-life balance and ensuring everybody is at the top of their game when they are working is at the centre of all of this, I was pleased to get the double-whammy of positive client AND team feedback.

  1. What made you decide to continue with the programme?

The feedback!

  1. How did you justify keeping pay the same?

Simply put, this was never an exercise in cost-cutting, but finding a new way to work that more and more evidence suggests has a positive impact on staff and output.

It’s not about forcing five days into four either, it’s about creating a company and culture where we attract the best and most talented people, demonstrate that we truly care about them being at their best, and in doing so, show clients that we aren’t afraid to think differently and put my money where my mouth is, too.

That’s a not-unattractive proposition in a business designed to help clients think and act differently.

This was never an exercise in cost-cutting, but finding a new way to work

From a purely financial perspective, we’re fortunate in that PR is a predominantly big city-based industry. Technology’s levelled the playing field and we’re much more likely to be pitching against a big London agency than we are a smaller provincial agency.

We rightfully - given our work and results - charge what our London peers charge, but save on overheads being based in Gloucestershire.

To that end, because we retain clients well and because we have a healthy new business pipeline, I calculated that our margin will take a single digit hit, while turnover and head count continues to increase.

It’ll be worth it for all the reasons mentioned above – or… I’ll have made a terrible, terrible mistake, and we’ll all be over the road at the job centre in a few months.