Radioactive PR boss: 'We've proved your business can grow with a four-day working week'

The first PR agency to introduce a four-day working week has reported a strong business performance, high levels of staff happiness, fewer sick days and spike in recruitment a year after launch. Radioactive PR boss Rich Leigh explains what he learned along the way.

The Radioactive team have enjoyed an improved work-life balance since shifting to a four-day week
The Radioactive team have enjoyed an improved work-life balance since shifting to a four-day week

Radioactive introduced the four-day working week last year to improve staff work-life balance and mental wellbeing.

A year on, it has reported turnover grew by 70 per cent year-on-year the four-day working week was implemented, while profit has improved marginally.

Three reasons why you should follow a four-day week

The number of CVs the agency has attracted has since moving to a four-day week more than doubled, but the most impressive results are a sharp decline in sick days and a huge improvement in staff morale.

The number of sick days reported has halved, from 1.3 days per person on average to 0.5 days per person.

In an anonymous staff survey that asked whether employees enjoyed a better work-life balance, three quarters reported a 10, on a sliding scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (definitely), and the lowest mark was an eight.

PRWeek caught up with Radioactive PR founder Rich Leigh to find out more about the challenges and benefits of a four-day working week.

PRWeek (PRW): What has been the biggest challenge implementing the four-day week and managing your team in an industry that is 'always on'?

Rich Leigh (RL): The biggest challenge at first was getting over my concerns about taking the idea to clients, and since then, reassuring them that it won’t affect results, communication or time spent on their account. The best way to do this is, of course, by producing good results and maintaining good communication.

The only way we’ve been able to do what we’re doing is by promising to clients that if they need us, we’re there for, and on behalf of, them in exactly the same way we always had been outside of normal office hours and ensuring tight time management throughout the rest of the week. For example, in the event of a crisis, we were there for them outside of normal hours but sometimes in less exciting ways, like making introductions, info/file-sharing to journalists etc.

I was reassured by clients that effectively said "look, we pay you for 'x' days a month, it’s up to you how you manage your time to achieve what we’re both after", but it’s something I think about every week, and encourage the team to think about. It’s ours to lose still, after all.

PRW: What do you believe has been the single biggest benefit of a four-day week?

RL: Of all the stats that came out of our recent 'one year in' report, the benefit that stands out to me is that every single staff member said they felt they had a good work-life balance. You can see how and why – that’s a month and a half they haven’t been at work in the last year that they otherwise would have been, or six years over a working life, in principle.

The fact we’ve grown both team size-wise and earnings-wise, maintained margins and had a real bump in terms of the quantity and quality of CVs coming in per job role advertised follow closely behind.

PRW: What is the biggest lesson have you learned along the way?

I guess the biggest one is that a business can grow while staff work less, but that it needs constant vigilance in terms of maintaining quality. As PR people, we’re judged every week by clients, so it’s nothing new, but it’s then about instilling that contentiousness in every client-facing staff member, which is easily done when you can point to something as tangible as losing a benefit like this if it all hits the fan and clients start to bugger off.

I had so many people saying that the four-day week might work from a staff happiness perspective but that we’d only ever be able to maintain size, so it’s nice to be able to prove that we can make a huge change and still build. I’m incredibly ambitious, and that drive doesn’t go just because I’m trying to pair it with doing as well as I can by the team.

PRW: What are other things you’ve discovered?

RL: Otherwise, it comes back to things I’ve already spoken about – and that’s us learning how to better manage time, talk to clients and utilise time-saving tools, particularly in relation to reporting. I’ve often felt that agencies tend to only speak to clients when there’s something positive to say, but for us it’s ensuring they always feel informed; walking them through approved timelines, ideas and the ‘how’ of execution, as well as the end result.

PRW: Would you recommend all agencies adopt this approach or does it suit a certain size/type of agency?

RL: I guess I can only speak for us on this. We’re an agency based outside of London, (rightly) charging what our capital peers charge for great work, and we don’t have London overheads. As such, our margin is higher – around four times higher, I think – than the industry average.

That gave me the room to consider this as an offering, as I was able to swallow a small margin hit, when others might struggle to get to that same conclusion. I’m wary that it’s only been a year, so I’m not about to start banging the drum for all to follow suit, but it’s been well worth it so far to get the results we’ve got, both from a business and team perspective. I’d do it again, and I think that says a lot.

PRW: What tips would you offer for other agencies looking to implement a similar policy?

RL: If your earnings are stable and your margin is healthy enough, trial it. The worst that can happen is you realise it’s not sustainable. We really committed to it, while allowing enough flexibility to make promises we knew we’d be able to keep, and that helped clients buy in.

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