Is the four-day workweek inevitable? Maybe not for agencies

Some agencies are making it work. But hourly billing models—not to mention client demands—present challenges.
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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off/Paramount Pictures via Giphy

· 4 min read

For many, the pandemic turned workplace norms like daily commutes and desk salads into relics of the past. Now, with higher burnout rates and increasing calls for greater work-life balance, many believe the five-day work week is the next to go. The 32-hour week is even gaining support in Congress.

But in agency settings, where business is often subject to client whims and schedules, it’s less a question of why the need for a four-day week and more a question of if it’s even possible.

Happy Friday, indeed

Lisa Kribs, founding partner of social impact marketing firm TGW Studio in Rochester, New York, told Marketing Brew the eight-person agency went to a four-day schedule almost two years ago and will never look back.

Kribs said giving employees that extra day to travel, catch up on chores, or pick up a hobby has been great for morale and productivity. “This is about mental health. This is about family. And this is about taking care of yourself,” Kribs said. “Rolling something like this out, it’s more than a perk. It’s just a way of being.”

Kribs calls TGW Studio a “social impact” marketing firm, working with clients like Planned Parenthood and 1% for the Planet. She said that while most of TGW’s clients do not operate on a four-day schedule, the agency’s decision has been respected overall. “Sometimes there’s a little bit of sarcasm around it,” she said. “You know, ‘Oh, I know you guys are off today.’” But she’s also seen clients pitch their own C-suites on why they should do a four-day week, too.

Calls for less demanding work hours are not just restricted to the US, which is known for its blurry lines between work and leisure. Brandish, a 30-person creative branding and marketing agency in Winnipeg, Canada, decided to cut out Fridays this November. Some of the company’s past clients include MIG Insurance and Birchwood Automotive Group.

Derek Elliott, partner and engagement director, said he’s seen a boost in both morale and in operations since the switch. “People approach meetings with more energy. People are more efficient with their time on days that aren’t Friday. And certainly from a work perspective, I think we found that the collaboration increases and the output of the work also gets better.”

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Both TGW and Brandish operate partly on a project-based billing model, which Elliott and Kribs both said was key to being able to switch to a four-day week. Making the switch was about streamlining meetings, launching campaigns earlier in the week, and replacing what Kribs calls “water cooler talk” with more focused work time—all while maintaining the same workload as before.

“We just tried to trust each other that we’re going to get done what needs to get done,” Kribs said.

No way, four-day

For agencies that operate on an hourly billing model, moving to a four-day week is not impossible, but can present more challenges. Barry Lowenthal, CEO of Media Kitchen, remains skeptical that a four-day week could ever work in a large agency setting with billable hours. For it to happen, he told Marketing Brew that clients would need to make the first move.

“Clients and service people would need to hold hands and say, ‘This is how we want to view work moving forward.’ I haven’t seen that really happen yet,” he told us.

Until an alliance happens or regulation gets passed, Lowenthal said it will be difficult for agencies to scale back and reduce their output and availability (aka revenue). According to Lowenthal, that’s why he pushed for Media Kitchen’s other employee benefits, like unlimited time off and the ability to work wherever.

Some agencies, like B2B marketing agency RedSprout Media in London, tried the four-day week and realized it wasn’t a fit. As a result, business publication Raconteur reported that the company opted for a 30-hour, “anytime, anywhere” policy where employees work where and when they want throughout the week.

Ultimately, the pandemic has revealed that employees around the world have realized the need for better work-life balance. The push for a four-day week is a sign, and a signal to employers, that the nine-to-five, in-office norms of pre-pandemic life may not fly once this is all over.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.