Four-day-week trial ‘very positive’, says recruitment firm founder

‘Our experience is that the carrot is so big, you don’t need a stick,’ says Barry Prost of Rent a Recruiter

Faced with the challenge of competing with much bigger industry rivals, Barry Prost of recruitment firm Rent a Recruiter says he was looking for innovative ways of attracting and retaining staff and liked the idea of the four-day week trial.

“It’s a super competitive area, and we found that we were losing staff to these larger organisations who could pay higher salaries on paper,” says Mr Prost, whose firm employs 25 people, most of them working in Ireland.

“So we were looking for kind of non-financial benefits that could transform our business and help us attract and retain the best people. And also, we wanted to be innovative and think a bit differently for our staff. So when I came across this idea I felt it could fit neatly into our business and could really help us transform it in terms of the type of people that we could attract.”

A new study based on a pilot project involving 12 Irish firms published on Wednesday found employers as well their staff can benefit significantly from the adoption of a four-day week.

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Respondents to the study, entitled The Four Day Week: Assessing global trials of reduced work time with no reduction in pay – Evidence from Ireland, cited various benefits including reduced stress, improved family time and significantly better sleep.

Rent a Recruiter saw the scheme as a risk with the shorter week potentially impacting negatively on customer service and so delayed entering the trial until a fair bit of research had been done. In the end, though, Mr Prost regards it as having been a major success with productivity and profits both up while staff retention has soared on the back of staff satisfaction levels.

“The way we work to have the most impact, we give our staff Fridays off so they have a three-day weekend. In theory you could lose 20 per cent of your productivity and that could impact revenue and profit etcetera. You could potentially upset clients so there were lots of lots of risks that we were trying to mitigate against.”

Instead, he says, “we’ve seen productivity increases per employee of 50 per cent over the course of the trial, which is huge. We have seen a doubling of gross profit year on year.

“Obviously, that’s not all down to the trial but it is very positive to be able to give your staff a three-day weekend which, not to overplay it, is transformative, it’s a huge benefit.

“Retention has been 100 per cent since the start of the trial, which is unusual for any company in our sector, which is characterised by high turnover. When we compared the turnover of staff we’ve had before and during the trial, it was amazing. So yeah, it’s been it’s been very positive.”

The company transitioning to fully remote working, Mr Prost acknowledges, made a big contribution to the overall transformation of the working environment and helped productivity but the four-day week, he says, was absolutely key to everything coming together.

“We felt that the move to four-day week would really help kind of mitigate against any sense of feeling of isolation that working remotely might cause,” he says. “People are able to use the time to care for elderly family members or to pick kids up from school. As a parent, I can relate to that. We have one member of staff who is also a psychotherapist and she uses the day to focus on that.

“We don’t change employment contracts so everyone knows it is a benefit that has to be earned. It’s not that we review it every month but everybody knows that it’s there as a benefit and everyone is very clear on the metrics that need to be achieved around productivity. Ultimately, everyone needs to be on board with the best interests of the business because otherwise it’s just not going to work for anyone.”

But do some staff require a push to get the work required done in the allotted time?

“Not really. Our experience is that the carrot is so big, you don’t need a stick”.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times