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Women-led company spectacularly counters employee burnout by switching to a 4-day work week

The shift comes during the so-called Great Reshuffle era when millions of Americans are quitting their jobs and prioritizing work-life balance.

Women-led company spectacularly counters employee burnout by switching to a 4-day work week
Cover Image Source: Primary.com

Online children’s clothing retailer Primary was quick to notice the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their employees' emotional wellbeing. Since endless weeks of juggling work and home life was sending their stress levels through the roof, the New York-based company launched an experiment that it hoped would prevent employees from burning out. "Everyone was just really burnt out by the end of the week," Christina Carbonell, Primary's co-founder and co-CEO, told CNBC. "When folks were coming back in on Monday, people were just not refreshed and it was affecting productivity."



 

In May 2020, Primary switched to a four-day work week model, and almost immediately, Carbonell noticed a positive shift in employee morale. By December, the new model was working so well that Primary decided to extend it indefinitely—as long as employees remain focused and there is no drop in productivity. "It does feel life-changing, knowing that you have that day to catch up on everything, whether it's thinking about a hard work problem or grabbing a doctor's appointment that you haven't gotten around to," said Galyn Bernard, co-founder and co-CEO at Primary.



 

As an online-only retailer, Primary has a staff of 60 that works regular hours Monday through Thursday. None of them took pay cuts or were expected to extend their hours when the company embraced a shorter workweek. Furthermore, meetings have been trimmed under the new schedule and some hours are blocked off as meeting-free. Yet, deadlines for seasonal launches were honored and products arrived in the warehouses on time. "We didn't have to back off of our ambition or our goals, or lighten up the workload for people," Bernard said. "They really rose to the occasion."



 

"As we've looked back over the last couple of years, what we've seen is our attrition rate staying pretty flat, which I consider a huge win," said Cap Watkins, the company's chief experience officer. Meanwhile, job seekers and new hires are initially skeptical of a four-day workweek policy. "The response from new hires is that it seems too good to be true; they can't believe that we actually do it," Carbonell said. "[But] it certainly is appealing to everyone who is looking to find the right balance in their lives." The shift in workplace culture at Primary comes during the so-called Great Reshuffle era when millions of Americans are quitting their jobs and prioritizing work-life balance. More and more companies are now responding to the reshuffle by meeting their employees' needs in areas like remote work, flexible hours, four-day workweeks, compensation, and more.



 

Thirty-five companies in North America are set to launch a trial of the shortened week in April as part of the nonprofit, 4 Day Week Global's plan, which currently has one pilot program underway in Ireland and one starting in the United Kingdom in June. "People are coming to the idea that we need to be better in the workplace," said Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College who will be conducting research on the global four-day workweek trials. "We need to be humane." Primary's co-founders agree that employees' wellness is key to the company's overall success. "Throughout the pandemic, people will ask, 'When are you going back?'" Carbonell said. "For us, there's not really a 'going back.' There's just sort of a new way forward that lets us imagine a new way for us to work."

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