Exclusive interview: If you don’t do it, you’re going to get left behind – my business and our four day week

Andrew Heath · July 8, 2019

Last week I caught up with David Stone, Chief Exec of recruitment company, MRL Consulting Group. MRL have been operating since 1997 with their head office in Brighton and additional offices in France and Germany, they currently have 61 staff.  As interest grows in UK companies who have recently transitioned to a four day week I wanted to find out more about why David recently took the decision to give his staff every Friday off and, what it looked like, logistically. 

David and the team at MRL.

The evolving world of work

“It started in the January management meeting,” David explains;

“We were discussing how we could improve our recruitment and retention and our German MD, Enrico suggested we try a four day week. The idea immediately piqued my interest so I went away and did some research, it quickly became clear that the evidence in favour of the four day week was pretty staggering.”

The world of work is evolving at speed, as are the expectations of employees. Henry Ford, kicked off a new way of thinking about the working week in the 1920s during the Industrial Revolution, when eight-hour work days were unheard of as the factories needed to be tended to all the time. During this time employees worked around 10-16 hours a day! Ford believed employees needed to be well rested in order to do a good job, and on September 25 1926 made a groundbreaking change by being one of the first significant companies to change his work policy to 40-hour weeks with five working days and no change in wages. Not far off 100 years later, surely it’s time for a further rethink…

David points to countries such as Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand where the four day working week is becoming more and more commonplace. When I ask him whether he thinks that in the UK we work too many hours in general, he is keen to highlight that in the UK we work the longest hours in Europe. Couple this with the lowest productivity and highest rates of mental health issues because of workplace issues, you begin to understand why giving his staff a four day week would appeal.

He also tells me about a fellow business owner who introduced the four day week in his business; their revenue tripled and they’ve since doubled their head count. This person also hasn’t lost an employee he didn’t want to lose since making the changes.

The nitty gritty of the four day week

Once David had finished his research, he decided he was going to go ahead with a six month trial period which began in May this year. He didn’t tell anyone about the changes and decided to announce the trial at a company meet:

“It was amazing, people were cheering and phoning their families to tell them, of course it was a great feeling to see how happy they were.”

Pay, holiday entitlement and daily working hours have not changed for David’s members of staff, but neither have KPIs and David is keen to emphasise this:

“If people are hitting their targets then it doesn’t matter if they are taking the day off on Friday. It can only be a good thing for them and their mental health, and as a result, the business. We are currently in a period of higher employment rates than ever before so employers need to work harder to retain the best employees and, so far, I’m confident that the four day working week is key to retaining the best staff. My genuine hope is that good people will never leave and brilliant people will want to join because of this initiative.”

I ask David if the office is open on Fridays if people do want to come in and work and what the etiquette is in terms of urgent emails and phone calls – are people expected to pick things up?

David explains that although phones divert to a virtual call handler, staff still tend to check in and answer urgent emails if necessary, even though they are not expected to:

“Of course, conscientious staff are going to do that anyway, our mobile phones mean we can access work comms 24/7, they are always with us. But wouldn’t you rather be calling someone from Brighton beach if you need to than being in an office?” 

I can’t help but think he’s right – of course a good employee is going to keep half an eye on their email, it’s a case of empowering people and trusting your employees to do the right thing. 

The results so far

Although the trial is only six weeks in David says he is already seeing some interesting results:

“From Monday to Thursday the working environment has changed, staff seem to be concentrating way more and there is far less chit chat, checking of mobile phones etc, which is great to see.” 

Given that a recent study by Vitality UK highlighted the presenteeism at work is on the rise David’s observations are not surprising. The same study found that more than 40% of employees said their work was being affected by mental health problems – a figure that’s risen by a third over the last five years. 

On a personal note, David (and a number of other members of the team) are enjoying more time with their families on Fridays:

“My wife and I get to actually talk to each other more,” says David. “During Saturdays and Sundays it used to be snatched conversations whilst managing the kids, now we get quality time as well as seeing the kids and I feel fully ready to come into work on Mondays.”

He also mentions that absenteeism on Mondays has gone down since implementation. 

“If you wanted to you could also say that productivity has gone up 20% because, so far, we are getting the same sales results in less days.” 

The impact on their employee wellbeing is obvious. It really is a compelling argument. 

The future

I ask David for his thoughts about the future of work in the UK and what he would say to people who would not for a minute entertain this concept. He laughs and answers:

“Well I’d say they’re dinosaurs and are going to get left behind. Be an early adopter of the four day week, get in there first and take advantage whilst this concept is fairly new to everyone because in a few years time it will be commonplace. You will lose good people if you don’t do it and you won’t attract the best people either. Employers need to fight for employees, they need to embrace change like never before.”

David also tells me he would even consider a 3.5 day week if it got the same results! I’m fascinated to see how this trial goes… 

Want to find out the full results from the six month trial? David will be joining us for an exclusive webinar to talk about the results later this year where we will discuss mental health and flexibility in the workplace, so watch this space and keep an eye on our upcoming webinars page.