Thought Leadership

Will the 4-day week work for the advertising industry?

As companies across the UK trial the 4-day week we ask industry leaders if it would work for advertising.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

Share


“2022 will be the year that heralds in a bold new future of work.” This was the positive pronouncement of Joe O’Connor, pilot programme manager for 4 Day Week Global, the not-for-profit community established to support the idea of the 4 day working week as part of the future of work.

It is an optimism that is well-placed with around 30 UK companies currently taking part in a six-month trial of a four day week, with employees being paid the same amount as if they were working their usual five days. The pilot scheme is being run by the 4 Day Week campaign alongside think tank Autonomy and researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. 

The pilot comes in the midst of a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the workplace in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. From ‘the great resignation’ to the revolution in hybrid working many across the industry agree there will be no return to ‘normal’ when it comes to work. For the creative industries, where people are the biggest differentiator, attracting and retaining the best talent is business critical. 

With this in mind, we asked a selection of industry experts if the 4-day week will work for advertising?

Victoria Day

Victoria Day11.jpg

Managing Director

Ogivly

As leaders of creative organisations, we should be absolutely focused on how to create an environment for innovation and creativity to thrive. Now that Covid has shown us that hybrid working is eminently possible, why wouldn’t we be thinking about a four-day week for the advertising industry? I am sure there will be lots of people (dare I say it, the old guard) who say it couldn’t possibly work in a client led industry but there are good reasons why we should give it serious consideration.

We work in an industry which is meant to be all about the quality of our output; we sell ideas, solutions to problems, assets that drive results. The better the output, the better the results. We know that sometimes those ideas come quickly and sometimes they come slowly because creativity is not a mechanical process.

Despite this, our antiquated commercial models sell hours measured by time sheets because that is a way of administrating the process that finance and procurement find satisfactory. Ask a marketing client if they feel hourly charging is the optimal solution and they will tell you they fear agencies waste time to justify billing more hours. What they actually want is for their agencies to be totally committed to getting to the best possible work and results. And we all know that the best work comes from the most motivated, stimulated employees. If we could agree to be paid by output, then a 4-day week with engaged, productive staff would be a real possibility. 

Parry Jones

Parry Jones.jpg

What’s Possible Group

Deputy CEO

Yes and no… let’s not move from one type of rigid system straight into another.

The four-day week debate, much like the office vs home debate, tends to be dogmatic rather than pragmatic. Let’s focus on people.

By taking a people centric approach you realise two things; everyone is unique, and every client has specific needs. The advertising industry needs to work for everyone.

At What’s Possible we serve the needs of dynamic growth brands. Marketers who work in fast-paced, ambitious and demanding environments. We need to get in the trenches with our clients. Be on when they are on.

But we also need to attract the best talent. And make sure that talent is at their passionate best. Our people can only serve our clients if they can protect their wellness and put their families first.

Throw in our goals to be a more inclusive and diverse workplace and you quickly realise that one-size does not fit all. There is no single work pattern that serves all our people and all our clients.

Instead, I’m advocating flexible working patterns. Job sharing. A focus on outcomes over presenteeism. Trust.

Our goal is to create an emotionally safe environment where parents can plan their day around drop off and pick up. Creatives can work late into the night on an idea and then sleep-in the next day. And everyone can prioritise their mental health.

The 4-day experiment will be fascinating. The non-negotiable is delivering exceptional work for clients. If that means a four-day week… let’s make it a flexible four.    

Richard Exon

Richard1.jpg

Joint

Founder

It’s hard not to find the idea of a four day week alluring, and it’s very exciting that some businesses are bravely trialling it. Certainly the debate about quality of time vs quantity of time feels well worth having. And most of my concerns are practical and perhaps they will all be answered by those who are giving it a go.

For example, how does a four-day-a-week agency work best with a client who operates a five day week? Is it simply a question of process, discipline and a shared agenda or does the asymmetry here inevitably create unnecessary friction in the relationship? Or what about fairness? There has to be a risk that a small selection of clients will always create work on the fifth day. How can this be evenly distributed across the agency in a way that builds morale rather than erodes it?

But my biggest concern is a strategic one about flexibility. At Joint we are treating the return to the office as a giant experiment that will last a long time yet. We hope to discover exactly what degree of flexibility best serves Joint and all the people who work here. The problem with the wholesale adoption of a four day week is that it is inherently inflexible, cutting down everyone’s room to manoeuvre by at least 20%.

Sarah Owen

sarah owen headshot.jpg

Pumpkin PR

Founder and CEO

In early 2020, I decided to trial the 4.5-day week at my company to improve everyone’s work life balance. The reason was simple: by the end of the week, my team and I were burnt out by both the pandemic and the current “industrial revolution”. It seemed quite innovative at the time and has certainly proved a strong lever to attract and retain staff. But most importantly, it works. My (much younger) team and I really enjoy working hard to finish early on a Friday and very much appreciate the longer weekend. 

Importantly, and luckily it has resonated with our clients. Their response was wholly positive, respectful and in fact a few have even started to adopt a similar approach to the working week. Full transparency and given the nature of what we do there has been the odd news release or indeed comms emergency that has cropped up on a Friday at 4pm. We will always manage those of course – and we are mindful that many other people are still working or may need us. 

Post Covid – and working from home – the idea of 4.5, and indeed now the 4-day week, doesn’t seem so crazy. In fact, it might be one of the only weapons we have against the always on, tech overload and email tsunamis that we face. We all know that retaining staff and keeping them happy will be the critical issue facing business over the next five years. 

I appreciate this policy can’t work for all businesses, but it certainly can for the creative sector. In our industry I believe shorter working hours help avoid burnout, boost productivity and indeed help creativity to flourish.

My trial became reality, in the same way I believe a four-day week will. We will need to continue to show our clients it can work, and it is of benefit to them in the longer term. My aim is to move to a four-day week before the end of 2022.

Natalie Napier

NatalieNapier_Grace Blue.jpg

Grace Blue

Managing Partner and Head of Agency practice

At Grace Blue we absolutely believe there can be different ways of approaching working that can be just as productive as a traditional, five-day week. In our own business a number of us work a reduced week very successfully and, over the years, we have placed several senior leaders across both our agency and consumer brand divisions on reduced hours.

The fact is that the industry will miss out on some exceptional talent if it isn’t prepared to consider new ways of working. I don’t think this necessarily means there needs to be a one-size-fits-all approach. It might be that what works for a smaller shop may not work so well in a bigger agency, for example. The key thing is that our industry must be prepared to think differently about how we work. We know how successful the four-day working week trial has been in other countries and we know that many of our industry’s clients have already championed flexible working arrangements – so this is something all agencies should be considering.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can change and evolve and do things in a way not done before. Lots of people have enjoyed the better work-life balance that remote working has provided, and this is another way to address that balance. We also need to think about attracting up-and-coming talent into advertising and how flexibility might become increasingly important, particularly if it is something that is on offer to them elsewhere.

Related Tags

Future of Work