DALLAS — The next time you get ready to take the plunge into another Monday through Friday cycle, you might take a little solace that some lawmakers in Congress are getting behind proposed legislation that would shorten workweeks to four days.
Already doing a four-day week in Denton
But that law is already in effect -- at least at one business in Denton.
I recently talked to the top boss at that business (Note: For many workers, this may not look anything like the boss talk you’ve heard in your workplace): “It is possible to have a business where you focus on the quality of working life. And you try to make it a good place to work… not with pizza parties and ping pong tables, but actual real… you can come here and you can work and then when you're done, you can put it down and you can go be the rest of your human that you are.”
That is Josh Berthume, for whom a better work culture was a top priority when he founded Swash Labs in 2011.
He says, “A fundamental operating idea at Swash Labs is that we should challenge conventional thinking and ask whether the way things have always been done is the best way to do them."
Swash Labs is an advertising agency in Denton, with a particular focus on digital media. They say their clients include corporations, nonprofits and educational institutions.
Remote work... then shorter work weeks
Some Swash Labs employees were remote, and then the firm went fully remote during the pandemic. And they stayed that way.
Critically, Berthume says remote work came with no strings attached. "There's a thing, a lot of companies did with the pandemic when they went all remote and then they tried to extract a price from their workers for working from home. And it was like you got to be more productive because you don't have to commute and that just feels gross," he said.
Beyond going remote without requiring something more of employees for that added convenience, Berthume says the team at Swash Labs decided to experiment with another small step: trimming four hours off the work week.
Then they took a break from the new program to evaluate it and ask employees what they thought of the new hours.
Not surprisingly, employees were all for it. "It went great, everybody loved it."
And to boot, the business thrived. Berthume says more work was being done in less time by employees who were better rested and more satisfied. "Our work was great, and we were actually doing more work. 2021 was our best year ever. So that was good motivation to push it forward."
They've now shortened the workweek further. Full time is 32 hours in four days. And Berthume says he sees early signs that this year may be better than their best year.
Watch the extended interview here:
He acknowledges there were challenges getting this all set up. And, with a staff of 11, he fully understands it might be harder to do this at scale for a larger company. "You know, there's a benefit to being the leader of a small business in that you can just rule by fiat. In this case I could just say we're doing this. We're going to try it," he said.
He says it’s something business leaders should consider. "There's a lot of evidence that says that this is where work is going. This is representative of the future of work, and if you get out in front of it and try and go through the wall first, then it gives you an opportunity to have a competitive advantage over others in your industry," Berthume said. "And the experience that we've had is so good that I would encourage other people to at least think about it."
Some of them have been thinking about it after Berthume wrote a blog about the transition, titled "Why we're moving to a four day workweek."
In it, he unsparingly criticizes what he sees as a de-humanizing work culture and reminds us that typical workweek rules are "…entirely imaginary. We made them up."
And Berthume explains how and why his company is now re-imagining how people should work. “And… I got some emails when that blog post came out from business associates that… are partners or people I've worked with or that I just know professionally," he said. "And a lot of them said, 'Boy, like, I'm so glad you're doing this and I'm happy that someone is out there, and I wish I had the courage to try that.'"
Their employees may be wishing the same.