Bolt's 4-day workweek experiment was eye-opening. Morale, productivity, retention and recruitment are all up—way up—for the tech startup following its decision to work fewer days.
The four-day workweek is gaining steam. Kickstarter is testing it through the 4 Day Week Global Program. Cisco is reportedly experimenting with a four-day workweek. And Healthwise’s own shortened workweek stemmed massive resignations and bolstered productivity.
Europe is ahead of the U.S. in adopting 4-day workweeks, with Belgium the most recent country to do so.
As the chorus to work fewer days grows louder, the appeal goes beyond enjoying three-day weekends. It can be good for business.
Bolt, a San Francisco-based e-commerce company and early adopter, piloted the program last summer after its executive team noticed burnout among some employees. It designated certain Mondays as informal wellness days that allowed teams to take the day off to recharge.
Based on the positive response, Ryan Breslow, Bolt’s founder and executive chairman, decided to pilot a four-day week in which all employees went offline on Fridays for three months. The results were clear: employee well-being, morale and productivity improved.
A survey taken at the end of the three-month trial period suggested healthier and happier employees, and the decision to make the policy permanent was a “no brainer,” says Jennifer Christie, Bolt’s chief people officer.
A whopping 94% of workers and 93% of managers wanted the program to continue. And, among the 80% of employees who responded to the survey:
- 84% noted an improvement in their work-life balance
- 84% said they were more productive
- 86% said they were more efficient with their time
Retention levels have stayed the same since it formalized the policy. Christie also reports seeing 200% more applicants in 2022, compared with the same time period in 2021, “suggesting the culture we’ve built and adopted here at Bolt is a huge differentiator for us.”
Is this move for everyone? Where do you even begin? Christie shares what other companies should consider, and what Bolt learned along the way.
What were the biggest lessons learned and challenges you faced?
Christie: Initially, there was quite a large operational lift to make this work. It was important to Bolt that we didn’t think of this change as doing five days of work in a four-day period. We wanted our people to focus on the most impactful work and spend their time on things that really mattered.
To address this, we had everybody at the company wipe their calendars clean entirely. Not only did this ensure that we weren’t scheduling anything for Fridays, but it also forced us to be very intentional about what meetings were occupying our time.
Certain meetings were reduced to 15 minutes from 30 minutes, others were shifted from weekly to bi-weekly, and many were scrapped entirely. This shift allowed our company to free up time for focused work while also easing the burden of trying to change the entire company’s schedules on a disjointed and more rolling basis.
Another logistical burden was how the company managed our holiday schedule. Initially, weeks with a holiday replaced the company-wide offline day, but many found this to be confusing and frustrating for our team.
As such, and since Bolt continued producing at the same level regardless of how many days or hours employees were mandated to work, we decided to honor both holidays and our offline Fridays.
While this entire process was filled with learnings and adjustments, this was one key example of hearing the feedback from our employees, evaluating these requests against our business performance and taking decisive action.
What are the key factors to a successful roll-out and implementation?
Christie: When rolling this program out, we had to make sure that everyone was fully bought in. We recognized that this policy would never take hold if our senior employees were working and demanding things from their teams on Fridays.
Additionally, in order to truly evaluate the pilot program’s success, we needed everybody to actually abide by this new schedule.
Once we could confidently say that everybody was taking the pilot seriously, we were able to evaluate the output the organization was producing before and after the change in order to make informed decisions about what came next.
Is this model for everyone—even non-tech companies?
Christie: We recognize that certain professions could never work a Monday-Thursday workweek. However, we also believe that many organizations could make this change if not for an insistence on maintaining the status quo.
At Bolt, we’ve always tried to be bold, both in terms of our product and our culture. If an organization has a more traditional nine-to-five and is willing to put in the time and energy required to evaluate this new working model for its employees, it could definitely make this model work. There are many more organizations out there that this could work for, they just might not know it yet.
We hope to inspire other companies, big and small, to implement some of the changes we’ve made to our culture that seek to bridge execution with humanity. While we democratize ecommerce with our product, we hope to fundamentally change company culture along the way.
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