The four-day workweek: What Literal Humans learned after taking part in the world’s largest trial

Part two of our series on agencies that participated in the six-month test.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: Paul David

· 4 min read

In an industry where long hours and weekend work aren’t exactly uncommon, a four-day workweek might seem like a pipe dream. But as the shorter workweek gains traction, some marketing agencies are experimenting with it—literally.

Several agencies took part in the world’s largest trial of the four-day workweek, conducted in the UK between June 2022 and December 2022. Results, which came out last month, indicated that the five-day, 40-hour workweek could soon become a relic of the past.

Given that marketing and advertising was the most-represented industry in the trial, we spoke with three participating agency executives about their experiences, including Paul David, CEO and co-founder of ad agency Literal Humans.

Getting involved

When the trial opportunity emerged, David told us, “We just thought it’s super aligned with our values; we generally just want to work less and test out if we can make it work with the agency model.” With the agency only a couple years old at the time, he said a shortened week was easy to “bake into the DNA of the company.”

Similar to Amplitude, David said he was concerned about the impact a shortened workweek could have on the agency’s ability to “keep pace” with other agencies and make money, as well as manage workers’ stress levels as they navigated shorter timelines.

However, by the end of it, the general consensus among employees was (in his words): “Please, God, do not ever go back to the five-day workweek.”

The plan

Literal Humans approached the trial with the following structure, according to David:

  • All employees (now totaling nine) took Fridays off with no expectations of being available.
  • Clients, which have included companies like TransferWise and Grapeseed Media, were notified that employees would not be working Fridays.
  • Clients pay a monthly retainer, so there were no billable hours to impact.
  • Employees worked in a hybrid structure with no mandatory days in the agency’s rented coworking space, aside from occasional team collaboration days.

The results

On Mondays, David said everyone shares how they spent their three-day weekends, which has allowed the team to learn more about each other. During and after the trial, he said some employees have taken up writing a book, some do painting classes, and others spend their time surfing.

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“The answers are delightful,” David said. By encouraging people to do something fun with their day off, he said, it helped them avoid the impulse of feeling like they need to work on Fridays. “If you have a day to chill, a day to have fun, and a day to run your errands, then you just feel a bit more sorted,” he said.

David said working four days a week has led to an increase in employee happiness, as measured in weekly pulse checks using the engagement tool 15Five.

He said it’s also helped with recruiting by increasing both the quantity and the quality of candidates: “Anecdotally, I think we’ve seen candidates who are really strong and who are willing to even take a pay cut, which is not the point of the four-day workweek,” he said.

In terms of profitability, David said the agency did not see a reduction in revenue and just hit its highest annual revenue ever at around $1.3 million. As far as the impact on clients, David said he believes the agency’s schedule “demonstrates a higher level of productivity. We’re offering what other agencies offer in 20 days in 16.”

What’s next

While there were some growing pains at first, like figuring out how certain tasks like project management can operate on a shortened schedule, David said the kinks have mostly been ironed out.

According to David, Literal Humans continues to operate on a Monday–Thursday schedule, though he’s looking at providing more flexibility with when people can take off as the agency grows.

Recently, a bill was reintroduced in the House to reduce the American workweek to 32 hours. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who cosponsored the original bill, cited the results from the UK trial as proof of the benefits for workers and businesses alike.

As an American working in the UK, David said, for the four-day week to catch on in the US,  business leaders will need to lead the charge, as some are doing with remote work. Still, he said, he’s hopeful it’ll catch on across the pond.

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