The award "Best HR Project for SME" for 2022 of the Bulgarian People Management Association, which our 4-day project received, led to many questions. Partners, journalists, friends, and curious strangers wrote to us wondering: "What were the challenges before the project?", "How did the teams in the company and the external partners react to the change?", "What do you report as the biggest positives of the new working model already a year after its introduction?" are perhaps the queries we receive most often. That's why we invited our internal engine, our People & Culture team in the person of our colleagues Maria Angelova and Petya Pavlova, who provide the framework, look for tools, and actively continue to adapt our environment to make the concept of Free Friday our reality.
What follows is an unconventional reading of two visionaries, eyewitnesses, participants, and followers of the quest for people-centered development with an eye to the future.
Maria: What does a 4-day workweek mean? Have you ever asked yourself this question? Honestly, in front of yourself?
The theoretical answer is: 100% pay for 80% of the time on the job provided 100% of the agreed productivity is achieved. Each plan is unique to each organization and its rules and policies, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to implementing the 4-day workweek.
The authentic answer is: When I think about how the 4-day week has changed the way we approach work, I tell myself that it has changed the way we think. The effect is that we at Manpower plan our week based on what will have the biggest impact on the business and on our individual goals. Everything else is deprioritized.
And how did you take the idea of a compressed work week at the beginning of the project?
Petya: For me, the 4-day workweek was a utopia in my mind. I hoped that sometime in the future the business would mature into such a working model. As someone who often works at high speeds, propped up by deadlines and in-depth projects requiring a lot of attention, there were times when I "gasped". Taking two days off on the weekends was often like taking a nap. Reading articles about tools, and methods for dealing with stress, I recognized how important one's well-being is to be effective and truly productive in one's work.
It was at this point, amongst daydreams of long weekends, that we suddenly received an email from Alexander Hangimana, our Managing Regional Executive, in which he shared his vision and aspirations for introducing a 4-day working week. Shock! My eyes couldn't believe it and my thoughts meandered around "this can't be true" and "It's finally happening". After a few internal meetings, we launched our dream project - everyone was extremely motivated but also worried about how the same amount of work (even at times more) could happen in a shorter timeframe.
What lasting process and culture changes did the 4-day workweek bring?
Maria: Instead of being reactive, our team plans the big things we need to accomplish and puts those tasks on our calendar over time. This includes "booking a meeting with myself" so that we can really complete the week's work in four days. We play by the rules of the business, but with exciting-sounding words that describe our ambitious culture and each of us participates in building it as authentic, fun, innovative, and empathetic.
We are committed to our organization to walk through the journey of this significant change together. Truth be told, it was difficult when we launched, but we all knew that this condensed week would easily fit into the DNA of Manpower Bulgaria.
Petya: It's no coincidence that even during the pilot, there were work Fridays - we needed a framework, a stack, and a change of organization. We worked cohesively to come up with a mechanism on how to optimize our processes, introduced multiple automation, and improved the way we communicate and delegate tasks. We all reached levels of accountability that we didn't suspect because we knew we depended on each other if we wanted the 4-day working model to be successful. We responded to the needs of our partners by scheduling on-call for Friday day, which for our teams meant 1 on-call every two months or so.
After 18 months in the new working model, what are the results for the people and the company?
Petya: Looking back, the challenges have not been few and they still are not, but we get through them together as a team. The four-day working week is a team game! That's why BAWH's award for 'Best HR Project for an SME' is such great recognition for all of us, as it's further proof that we're going in the right direction. Apart from the opportunity to deal with stress more adequately, to be more physically active, to give ourselves time for our favorite people and interests, and time where our minds are not dashing from task to task, but working with more focus and with moments to recharge, it makes us realize how important everyone at Manpower is. Without the dedication, talent, and willingness to help, perhaps, we would still be going along in business inertia, not innovating at such a pace and leading by example rather than following one!
Maria: After a year and a half, the results show increased company satisfaction, commitment and teamwork, but also reduced stress levels. All the effort is worth it because it leads to happier and more committed colleagues ready to take on new challenges every Monday.
When we've worked productively and used our time wisely Monday through Thursday, we get the gift of time on Friday. At Manpower Bulgaria, we are learning that time is the most significant gift we can give a team. Life isn't all work, but when we work long hours, it's hard not to be. Limiting the time we work forces us to consider how best to use our non-work time.
And in the spirit of our culture focused on continuous improvement - it's now time to start implementing our latest team idea around working four days a week, and how it's led to increased happiness for people across the company as measured by quarterly pulse checks using our engagement tools.