To mark the start of 2019, Florida based attorney Walter Benenati made a rather unusual move with his law firm – he shortened the workweek to four days. According to a Law.com report, Benenati considers this decision to be one of the best he has ever made. While he spends Fridays preparing brunch and transporting his 3-year-old daughter to gymnastics, his 24 employees run errands and go to doctor appointments.
Benenati is not the only one who has seen the benefits of a shortened workweek. NPR recently reported that after employees at Microsoft Japan started working only four days a week (while still receiving their regular, five-day wages), the company saw a 40% productivity boost.
How can shortened weeks and three-day weekends have such a profound effect on an organization’s productivity? Microsoft Japan experienced increased efficiency for several reasons:
- Lower utility costs. After the workers went to the 4-day work week, the company’s electricity costs fell by 23 percent.
- Fewer meetings. Because of the shortened workweek, the standard length of a meeting was cut from 60 minutes to just 30 – an approach adopted for nearly half of all the company’s meetings. Usual attendance at meetings was also capped to five employees.
- Motivation. Looking forward to three days off every week is motivating for most employees, and the prospect of a long weekend will push them to work harder.
- Special perks. The employees who took Fridays off received special paid leave, and results were so favorable that Microsoft Japan plans to offer a similar benefit this winter.
- Better time management. The company urged employees to work collaboratively via chat channels rather than time-consuming meetings and emails.
Benenati, who is managing partner at Benenati Law Firm, also realized positive results after the change was made including:
- Steady monthly retention numbers
- Increase in office morale and productivity
It should be noted that Benenati Law employees don’t work fewer hours than they would if they worked five days per week. The firm’s five attorneys and 14 staff members work 10-hour days (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), to ensure that everyone gets their full 40 hours. The remaining four staff members and one case manager chose to work the traditional five-day workweek in order to finish work at five p.m. On Fridays, Benenati attorneys rotate to cover client consultations and field incoming work.
What to expect
Despite the benefits, most law firms likely won’t adopt the four-day workweek.
Notwithstanding the success Benenati Law experienced due to a shorter workweek, many firms don’t have the same degree of flexibility.
One reason for this might be the stigma associated with taking time off. Legal professionals (particularly women) who utilize flextime and paid leave are sometimes seen as less committed to the firm than those who work extended hours, a perception that can be harmful to their careers.
According to one study, when men request flextime they are more likely to be viewed favorably, but women are more likely to be punished for it. For example, after the birth of her first child, former litigator Amy Nelson asked her employer if she could take Wednesdays off each week. However, she soon found herself working from home on that day – for a 20 percent pay cut – and ended up leaving the firm six months later after being passed over for a job promotion.
Although more firms are offering perks like liberal vacation time, flexible work hours, and paid parental leave as a means of recruiting top talent and retain female attorneys, these perks often go untouched. This raises the question: If everyone in the firm works a shortened schedule or has job-sharing arrangements or other opportunities for flexibility, then nobody will be seen as less dedicated, right? The thought of a four-day workweek sounds intriguing to most legal professionals and strides have been made to disprove the thinking that being a part-time lawyer is “the kiss of death.”
Do you know of other flexible working arrangements that are feasible for law firms? Tell us about them in the comments!