These Lucky Employees Get Three-Day Weekends All The Time – BuzzFeed News


At the startup iBeat, every other weekend is Labor Day weekend.

That’s right: The special three-day weekend many of you in the
United States are about to relish is a matter of routine for
this San Francisco health-tech company.

CEO Ryan Howard, who’s made shortened weeks a staple of iBeat
since he founded it this year, spends his days off riding his
motorcycle, running errands, and taking out-of-town trips. “I
don’t burn out at all at this job,” he told BuzzFeed News. “My
life doesn’t feel so cramped. It’s nice. I’m more aware; I’m
tuned in; I’m much more sustainable at work.”

iBeat may be onto something. A growing body of research
suggests that the traditional five-day workweek, still the norm
for the majority of US workplaces, isn’t necessarily most
efficient. Shorter weeks may actually boost employees’
productivity — not to mention their happiness. And they can be
a powerful recruitment and retention tool, especially for small
startups that can’t offer all the other perks that tech giants
give employees.

As workers grow out of their 20s or just burn out, some think
less favorably of  Silicon Valley’s ingrained workaholic
culture.

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iBeat’s emphasis on work-life balance helps attract talented
employees, Howard says, including those disenchanted with
Silicon Valley’s ingrained workaholic culture of all-nighters,
meals at the office, and nonstop emailing and Slacking. As
workers grow out of their 20s and start families, or just burn
out, some think less favorably of the work-life balance
espoused by people like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who recently
told
Bloomberg of her time at Google, “‘Could you work
130 hours in a week?’ The answer is yes, if you’re strategic
about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to
the bathroom.”

The idea of giving employees a more flexible schedule seems to
be slowly catching on. Forty-three percent of companies allow
some employees to work compressed weeks during at least part of
the year, according to a
2014 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
And as BuzzFeed News
reported last month, Amazon is beginning to test four-day,
30-hour workweeks for some of its tech employees.

Five-day workweeks date back to 1908, when a
New England mill became the first American factory to offer
workers two days off; Saturday until that point had been a
half, not full, day of rest. Most of its workers were Jewish,
and the new schedule let them observe their Sabbath on
Saturday. In 1926, Ford became the first large-scale employer
to put its plants on the schedule, and the practice spread from
there.

The year is now 2016, and the five-day workweek is still firmly
in place in the US and much of the world. But it may be time to
rethink that tradition, as evidence suggests that longer hours
don’t necessarily lead to higher productivity. A 2009
study of 2,000 British civil servants showed that working
more than 55 hours a week was associated with lower cognitive
performance, compared to 40 hours a week.

View this image ›

Kristin Tinsley getting a
jump-start on the weekend in Napa. Courtesy
/ Kristin Tinsley

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In 2008, then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman started a “4/10” workweek
– 10 hours a day, Monday through Thursday — for thousands of
state workers in hopes of saving money and improving
efficiency. When Brigham Young University professors Rex Facer
and Lori Wadsworth dug into what people thought about the
first-in-the-nation policy, as well as about similar schedules
in other places, they found
that just about
everyone involved had good things to say. Employees enjoy
the reduced commute and chance to spend more time with their
families, and they are able to squeeze in more tasks on the
days they are at the office.

“Whether you ask managers or ask employees, they both report
their employees are more productive. They tend to report there
are higher levels of job satisfaction. And one of the things
that was surprising to us was that they report that they take
less time off work,” Facer, an associate professor of public
management, told BuzzFeed News. That likely means that
employees are scheduling errands on their scheduled days off,
reducing the need to take vacation, he said.

Utah ultimately didn’t take these lessons to heart, and in
2011, lawmakers
cancelled the experiment everywhere but Provost. But
several other
companies have offered four-day workweeks in some form,
including online education startup TreeHouse,
project-management tool startup Basecamp, Web development
company Reusser Design, global tax and audit firm KPMG, and the
US Government Accountability Office.

Last year, as Howard was figuring out next steps after the
startup he’d founded, Practice Fusion, had ousted him as CEO,
one of his friends died in his sleep from undetected heart
problems. That loss gave Howard the idea for what became iBeat:
a heart rate-monitoring wristband that calls 911 in
emergencies. This time, though, he’d do things differently.

“I worked on Practice Fusion for ten years, and I woke up one
day and I was 40,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose another
decade of my life.” So around January, when he started pitching
venture capitalists and hiring employees, Howard decided to
offer alternate four-day workweeks from the get-go. (He thought
that having them every week would be tougher for investors to
swallow.)

iBeat, which raised
$1.5 million in seed funding last month, isn’t flush with
the capital and prestige of established companies, which makes
hiring hard. It doesn’t have round-the-clock catered meals or
on-site haircuts and laundry. But 26 three-day weekends a year
are a bonus that’s relatively affordable and especially
attractive to older employees who have both family obligations
and enough work experience to be productive right away. “It
allows me to recruit a caliber of candidates because this
perk’s not available anywhere else,” at least not in the Bay
Area, according to Howard. “And so I can recruit in a way that
Google and Facebook can’t.”

Brian Boarini, the director of product management at iBeat, was
a Google contractor at the beginning of his career. “I had the
buses and cafeterias and gyms,” he recalled. “They’re
everything they’re cracked up to be, in my limited experience.”

But Boarini, now 33, jumped to join iBeat and its team of 10 or
so employees partly because he could spend more time with his
1-year-son.

“I’ve never heard of any other company offering that — you get
a day back every other week — which right now is really the
most important thing, no question,” he said. “When you’re up at
5 and you don’t stop until 10 o’clock with dinner and dishes
and laundry, to get a free day to run chores or just hang out
and relax — I can’t imagine a better situation.”

“There’s no hitch.”

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“There’s no hitch,” Howard said. People work a regular 10
a.m.-to-6 p.m. schedule. Salaries and health insurance coverage
are competitive and the same as if employees worked five days a
week, Howard says. There’s also unlimited vacation time,
although, given the company’s small size, employees are
requested to not take more than two weeks off at a time.
They’re also encouraged to schedule their doctor’s
appointments, haircuts, and other errands for their Fridays
off, so the team can make the most of the shorter weeks.

iBeat employees say that people outside the company have been
understanding — and more than a little jealous — when it comes
to scheduling meetings and phone calls. For some inside the
startup, one of the hardest adjustments has been to actually
feel comfortable with working less. Howard admits that he’ll
occasionally run errands and take meetings on Fridays. Kristin
Tinsley, director of marketing and communications, said, “The
one thing I think was the hardest habit to change was just not
checking my emails.” So she puts her phone in “do not disturb”
mode and sets up a reminder to stay out of her inbox. Getting a
massage every other Friday also doesn’t hurt.

“So why don’t we have three-day weekends?” you think, as
you begin to paste this article into an angry email to your
boss.

It’s tricky. Cutting a day out of the week isn’t a cut-and-dry
matter, according to Facer, the BYU professor. His studies have
focused on workweeks of 10 hours per day over four days — but
research doesn’t yet show that working a typical eight hours a
day, four days a week, also improves productivity, he said.
That’s because the practice hasn’t been adopted widely enough
to be studied.

“There are a lot of workers” — especially millennials — “who
argue they can get as much done in 32 hours as a lot of other
people could get done in 40,” he said. “We just haven’t seen
that used in any kind of large-scale trials and so we don’t
know how it’ll really play out.”

Most importantly, four-day workweeks aren’t a one-size-fits-all
solution. If “the best choice is a traditional schedule, great.
If the best choice is a four-day work schedule with 32 hours,
fantastic. If it’s a four-day workweek with 40 hours, great,”
Facer said. To do it right, he says, you have to “make
decisions deliberately so you’re thinking about, ‘How is this
affecting the employees I have, and am I able to provide the
set of services necessary for the organization I’m working
for?’”

Sometimes, as hard as this might be to accept, a
four-day-a-week schedule isn’t the best option year-round. That
was the case for Basecamp, which makes Web-based project
management tools and had enforced that policy since it was
founded in 1999.

It may sound like a dream. But about six years ago, Jason
Fried, CEO of the Chicago company, sensed that three-day
weekends were beginning to feel more routine than rare. Now,
three-day weekends are only in place May through September.

“I didn’t want to lose another decade of my life.”

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“By making it special, you have more of a feeling that ‘I’m
going to take advantage of this, I only have this for five to
six months a year,’” he said. It wasn’t because people were
slacking off, he insisted; he genuinely wanted to bring back
the kinds of breaks that divided up the year when you were a
child, like school letting out for the summer.

Admittedly, employees were “probably a little bit
disappointed.” But Fried said that people are now used to the
policy, which he credits with helping to retain most of
Basecamp’s 50 employees for four, five, or six years, a long
time in startups. Basecamp also offers three weeks of vacation
— and takes time off so seriously that it even pays for
employees and their families to travel to destinations like
Morocco and Thailand.

Fried is curious to see how shortened workweeks play out now
that Amazon and other companies are now adopting them. What’s
important for bosses to keep in mind, he said, is that they
can’t offer four-day weeks while celebrating people who pull
all-nighters. “If you tell people they don’t have to work
Fridays and make them feel guilty they aren’t,” he said,
“that’s not really following through on the idea.”

This Labor Day weekend, Fried is planning to travel to
Wisconsin to catch up with some old friends. Call it putting
philosophy into practice.



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