The Virtue Of The Four-Day Workweek
Ingrid Carney, Ingrid & Isabel
October 19, 2015
The greatest thing I ever did for my maternity apparel company, Ingrid & Isabel, was give my employees a four-day workweek.
I did this initially for myself, to create the kind of work-life balance I had always dreamed of having in a career. But it turned out to be just the right spark for corporate success.
Setting the dependable, realistic target of getting our work mostly done by Thursday evenings has inspired focus and efficiency without sacrificing deep thinking and creativity among my team. They feel accomplished, challenged and happy. And, best of all for my Evergreen business, it has created a culture where people work harder and smarter, and they are productive and stay with the company longer.
Before I launched Ingrid & Isabel in 2001, I spent most of my early career in advertising pulling all-nighters and flying from meeting to meeting. For a while, that was thrilling. I felt very important. But when I became pregnant with my first child (and couldn’t button my pants, leading to my Bellaband invention), my ambitions changed. Instead of the frantic pace of many businesses, I wanted to create an environment where everyone collaborated and worked together as a team in the most efficient way in four days so we could sign off and enjoy our weekends. I wanted to do more than give lip service to work-life balance. I wanted to empower my employees to succeed both at work and at home.
I remember pondering the creation of a company that had set days and expectations unlike a traditional company, and I ultimately settled on eliminating Fridays. From the beginning, my customers and vendors were informed that our offices were closed on Fridays. Because it’s the way we have always operated, we have found that our partners, big and small, respect our schedule. Of course, if there is a huge project or meeting that requires our appearance on a Friday, we cheerfully comply. But most of the time, our three-day weekends are left untouched. On average, most Ingrid & Isabel employees come in on Fridays a little less than once a month for only a couple of hours.
Just as we set a precedent with our clients and customers, I have done the same with our employees. For the most part, having a four-day workweek has been extremely beneficial for my company. The intensity and furious activity that propels us to get our work done by Thursday evening spurs our brains and makes us highly productive. Ingrid & Isabel has grown every year—it’s never stopped. Even during the recession, we were financially successful as it coincided with the launch of a less expensive line at Target, which only carries two maternity lines on the floor—one of which is ours. We are carried fleet-wide at Target, and we are the No. 1-selling maternity vendor for many of our retailers. The Bellaband (our signature item) is the No. 1-selling maternity accessory in the category.
There are some challenges that come with doing business this way—mostly around hiring and retaining employees. Because we offer a four-day workweek, we also offer a salary around 80 percent of market rate. Young, hungry candidates who want to earn as much as they can and move up quickly struggle with this concept. But for young workers, we offer more than just a short workweek. Because we are a small company, we expose them to the entire business process. We are constantly working on innovation and researching new products. In a workplace with greater upward mobility and a higher salary, young workers can be limited in what they can contribute because they are mostly serving the needs of other people. At Ingrid & Isabel, we embrace expansive thinkers who are just as comfortable rolling up their sleeves and tackling mundane tasks, like data collecting, for example, as they are being involved in top-level strategic, product and financial meetings. The work is broad and entrepreneurial.
So, we have to be upfront from the beginning about the salary, and we need to be honest about the fact that it’s expensive to live in a city like San Francisco. The hires that I find do the best with us are those at the manager and director level—and I have learned how to find the best personalities within those titles that could be a great fit at Ingrid & Isabel. These are people who care very much about what they do, have an innate curiosity about their work and enjoy witnessing their individual contributions when we implement new ideas and reach pregnant women in the best and most meaningful way. They tend to be less concerned with title and more interested in the value of what they do. They may be seeking better work-life balance, starting a family or just looking to take more vacations.
But at the other end of the spectrum, we don’t want people who think a four-day week means an easy ride. So, to weed out the candidates who might not be very productive Monday through Thursday—or who might need a larger, more structured work environment to meet productivity goals—we have a rigorous interview process. We have multiple people across functions interview each candidate, with me personally meeting each person, sometimes three times.
So, does it work? Well, Ingrid & Isabel’s revenue is up year over year in double digits percentagewise. I think we get better at what we do every year because we’re highly trained and motivated as a team to be productive. Just as we suggest smart—not excessive—shopping to pregnant mothers, we try to be smart about how we conduct our business. We do what’s important during a timeframe that makes sense; we create boundaries and expectations and deliver on them. Because of this, we have earned great respect in our industry.
Every other year, I ask my team if they want to go to a five-day workweek, which would come with a raise. Everyone, hands down, says no. And there you have it. It’s working for us and personally working for me. My three-day weekends are treasured.
I am thrilled to be part of the 14 percent of small companies who offer their employees a four-day week.
Ingrid Carney is founder and CEO of Ingrid & Isabel, the maternity clothing company behind the Bellaband.