The four-day workweek: Why Amplitude tried it and wants to make it permanent

Part one of our series on agencies that participated in the largest four-day workweek trial to date.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: Jo Burns-Russell

· 4 min read

Eat your heart out, Henry Ford.

Last month, results from the world’s largest trial of the four-day workweek—conducted in the UK between June 2022 and December 2022—indicated that the five-day, 40-hour workweek may be as culturally relevant as the working conditions in which it originated.

Of the 61 companies that participated in the six-month trial, 56 intended to carry on with the shortened workweek immediately afterward.

Marketing and advertising was the most-represented industry in the trial, despite questions about whether ad agencies could adapt to such a schedule. We sat down with three participating agency execs to hear how things went and what kind of results they saw—starting with Jo Burns-Russell, CEO of creative agency Amplitude.

Getting involved

Burns-Russell told us she saw it as an opportunity to “be part of a team of people that were leading change, not just waiting for it to happen,” with potential benefits both from an employee welfare perspective and an environmental one (e.g., not heating the office or using computers).

Still, there were some concerns over getting involved. “Because we’re a creative agency…the output of our work is the caliber by which we’re judged. Our portfolio is how we get clients.”

Rather than view a 32-hour workweek as having less time to get work done and creating a potentially panicked environment, Burns-Russell said her team took it as an opportunity to streamline their processes to become more efficient in that time.

According to Burns-Russell, that involved using project trackers and Gantt charts, as well as managing file structures to ensure everything was ironed out internally.

“It wasn’t about saying, ‘You’ve only got half the time to do a piece of graphic design,’” she said. “It was about saying, ‘How can we brief that graphic design better? How can we manage feedback better with the clients?’”

The plan

Amplitude approached the trial with the following structure, according to Burns-Russell:

  • Half of the eight employees had Wednesdays off; the other half had Fridays off.
  • Hours were managed and visible to all colleagues in project management system ClickUp.
  • Clients were kept updated on the agency’s 32-hour schedule via private and public communication (e.g., articles, thought leadership, blogs).
  • Employees worked in a hybrid structure with no mandatory in-office days.

The results

At the end of the six months, the biggest takeaway, according to Burns-Russell, was a reduction in burnout. Employees were able to experience more leisure and pursue personal projects, which she said in turn led to a noticeable difference in their work.

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“I think giving people a bit more headspace to just think made us better creatives,” she said. “And I actually think the creative work we produced was stronger than it was before.”

During the trial, Burns-Russell said the agency, which has worked with clients like Avon and Unilever, did not lose any money and remained at about the same level of profitability.

What’s next

Post-trial, Burns-Russell said the agency is operating on a “fully flexible and fully hybrid” 35-hour week, meaning that employees can choose how they’ll space out their five hours off the week prior. She said her hope is to go back to a 32-hour week, with the extra three hours now being incorporated as a “safety net” in case of a recession.

Burns-Russell said she believes giving employees more flexibility is the way of the future, particularly considering the opportunities it can provide for people who might not fit in the pigeonholes of the traditional work model, like those with chronic illnesses or those with children. From an employer’s perspective, she said letting go of the need to control or micromanage can help employees feel more invested in the company.

“Giving people autonomy to manage their work and home lives will lead to happier people, which leads to better work, which leads to happier clients, which leads to more profits,” she said. “It’s a win-win, I think.”

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