A four-day working week. Can it really work? Won’t your company be automatically left behind by your competitors? No, says Sven L. Franzen, CEO of TIGER MARKETING Group GmbH, which introduced a 35-hour working week in 2016 and operates according to the motto: Take Friday off … you’ll be glad you did.
European Business: Mr. Franzen, how do you deal with the question of working hours? How long do you expect your employees to be at their desks?
Sven L. Franzen: Generally, we have agreed that we are in the office for eight hours each day. As for working hours, we have experimented a great deal over the last few years and now start the day at 7.30 am. The advantage to this is that by nine o’clock or half past ten, when the world has properly woken up and the telephones start to ring and emails start to flood the in-box, we have already finished with the key tasks requiring focus and quiet and can tackle the rest of the day under less pressure.
European Business: In an interview you gave last year, you said you worked a 35-hour week. Is that still accurate?
Sven L. Franzen: It depends on the employee and whether they work full time or part time. We now have a 24 (six hours a day) to 32-hour (eight hours a day) working week because we introduced a four-day week in 2016 and thereby reduced the week by a whole day. In a 32-hour week we work an eight-hour day, four days a week.
European Business: At first glance, it would appear that you have effectively lost 20% of your working time. You introduced a four-day week back in 2016; did you see a specific need for this?
Sven L. Franzen: We used to work from Monday to Friday, as is customary. It was actually curiosity about the results of a study that inspired us to try it out. This study suggested that stress can be significantly reduced and typical appointments - medical or otherwise - can be scheduled for Fridays and thus not disrupt the working week.
It perhaps requires a little more discipline and efficiency on the other four days to get through your work. Where previously you might have gone to get another coffee or have break, now you think ‘Ok, I work one day less, which is also a real benefit for me’. That’s the intrinsic motivation.
It perhaps requires a little more discipline and efficiency on the other four days to get through your work. Sven L. FranzenCEO TIGER MARKETING Group GmbH
European Business: Reducing stress for everyone is an admirable goal, but how is it possible to adopt your model without any loss in productivity? Can everything really be achieved in the time available?
Sven L. Franzen: In my experience, it can. There will always be the odd week or even a month or two in which there is a lot to do; this is driven by customers, projects and whatever is going on within our projects. Then you sacrifice the Friday and reintroduce it later or consider an alternative for a short period of time. Other than that, we have experienced no loss of production or productivity because this gift of a free day, which you get every week, is something very special and extremely motivating.
European Business: Working hours and work-life balance are moving up the agenda, particularly for younger job applicants. Is your model something that is specifically made clear to applicants?
Sven L. Franzen: It is a concrete offer which is included in our job advertisements. This helps us differentiate ourselves on job portals, and it means we are communicating clearly and transparently from the outset. Because what I really don’t want is to abolish the four-day working week. In other words, I don’t want to present anyone with a job that does not exist, because he has Friday off but assumes that he has to work Monday to Friday. That’s the reason it is communicated up front. On the one hand, it is a USP for us - an advantage which we can highlight that sets us apart from the competition; on the other hand, we communicate clearly because, for the foreseeable future, there will be no changes to our policy.
What I really don’t want is to abolish the four-day working week. Sven L. FranzenCEO TIGER MARKETING Group GmbH
European Business: Microsoft has recently tested a four-day week in Japan; despite a 20% reduction in working time, performance remained constant. Why is it taking so long for these more flexible models to become common practice?
Sven L. Franzen: That is a difficult question, and one to which I don’t have a simple answer. I can endorse the result that Microsoft in Japan has achieved and confirm that our experience is the same.
I assume, however, that the four-day week model won’t be widely rolled out, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, I believe that society becomes accustomed to certain norms and regards them more or less as law. To change such a perception is, in principle, always a longer process. Acutally human beings do not like to change things which have been familiar for years. It takes several factors to influence change; among other things, today’s young people - the new generation - see things differently and, because of the skills shortage, will perhaps be able to force companies to change, in that they can say ‘I can work a four-day week there, but not in your company, therefore I’m taking their job offer’. That’s one thing. Secondly, there will always be organizations which can’t adopt such a model - manufacturing companies or those in the gastronomy sector, for example.
In business discussions I have not seen this, simply because the theme is not talked about as often as you might think. Sven L. FranzenCEO TIGER MARKETING Group GmbH
European Business: As a business man, you have a good network. Have you inspired others to try out the four-day week model?
Sven L. Franzen: In business discussions I have not seen this, simply because the theme is not talked about as often as you might think; the whole thing has so far been dismissed as laziness. For example, when we close a meeting or telephone conversation with colleagues or customers on Thursday afternoon with the words ‘have a great weekend!’, it is always ridiculed in the sense of ‘they are lazy; they work a whole day less than us, and they are already starting their weekend’, instead of asking ‘Ok, why do you do that? What are the advantages? How could that work for us?’.
It isn’t a question though, rather an observation that the working week is short of a whole day. The transfer of understanding is still somewhat missing, as is the chance for others to see how we have experienced it - that outputs and production don’t fall apart, but remain more or less constant, yet everyone is happier and has a day free. That just doesn’t happen yet.
Interview: Markus Büssecker | Fotos: Sven L. Franzen, TIGER MARKETING Group GmbH