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Four-day workweek helped this company increase employee morale and profits

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Posted at 10:25 AM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 11:18:31-05

NEWPORT, RI. — Companies from coast to coast are trying something most people couldn't even dream of 10 years ago: a four-day workweek.

The movement is helping companies retain their employees during a wave of resignations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly 40 million people called it quits in 2021.

Companies have also found out this shift is helping employees be even more productive than before the pandemic.

For CEO Mike Melillo, of travel company The Wanderlust Group, he switched his company to a four-day workweek in 2020 and said it’s helped keep his business running and growing in a very challenging time.

“Best way to think of us is a combination of like Open Table for the outdoors. So, if you want to visit a marina, campground, you can come to our platform and book directly. Ironically, we're one of those tech companies that actually wants you to put down your phone.”

Melillo recalls, in the height of the pandemic, how exhausted his team was working remote five days a week.

“Everybody's calendar just looked like one continuous Zoom. And that's not healthy for anyone. I was just burnt out. My daughter at the time was 15 months old. I was not able to spend as much time as I wanted to,” Melillo said.

For everyone at the company, work became their identity.

“My concern was really working from home every day out of my, my bedroom, and doing that every day can grind on you. You find yourself on your Sunday, checking in to work, getting prepared, you know, trying to get ahead,” said Ryan Walsh, who has been with the Wanderlust Group for the past five years.

When Melillo saw his company’s culture shifting in front of him, he took a chance and made a big change.

“I'd love to say it was a romantic story that this was like, well thought out. I actually just shot an e-mail to my founders and the management team saying, 'Hey, effective tomorrow, we're canceling Mondays,'” said Melillo.

There was no change in pay, and no change in tasks—just one less day to work.

“My first reaction was, ‘How are we going to do this for the seven-day support staff with only three support agents? But, we were flexible,” said Walsh.

He said his customer service team often felt burnt out, even before the pandemic.

“They got burnout in 2019. Then, we switched to the four-day workweek, and you know, that wasn't a complaint anymore.”

“Counterintuitive, by taking something away, we actually made everybody a heck of a lot more efficient throughout the rest of the week,” said Melillo.

Both the team and the company grew.

“Unequivocally, it's helped retention and it's helped attract new people to come to the company,” said Melillo.

That satisfaction means even more in a time when millions of people are quitting their jobs across the country.

“Hey, if we can double our numbers, raise money from venture capitalists at a meaningful clip, and do all of this on a four-day workweek, while still being decent humans during a pandemic, it can work for a lot more companies,” said Melillo.

This change is one Melillo knows is well overdue for the entire country.

“Henry Ford started the 9 to 5 in the early 1900s in order to get three shifts on the factory floor. We did not recalibrate on any of those norms,” he said.

But, that recalibration is beginning. A California representative just introduced a 32-hour workweek bill to Congress. It is not expected to pass, but many say it is a sign that this conversation is becoming more mainstream.

Cities in Texas, Utah, Florida, West Virginia and Colorado have experimented with a four-day workweek, but no one has kept it permanently.

Overall, they found workers took fewer sick days, saved millions of dollars in gas costs, and the companies cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 13%.

“You can still get results, grow a highly talented, attractive team and build a great business all while doing it,” said Melillo.

To this team, that extra time off added far more value than an eight-hour shift ever could.

“On Mondays, I also get to take my daughter to swim class, which is one of my favorite things to do during the week. So, yeah, it's, it's not lost,” said Melillo with a smile.

It's proving that working smarter, not longer, may be the most valuable job of all.

“I'm in the market for buying a sprinter van to convert to potentially work remote on the road. But yeah, I got to talk to my boss first about that. It's something I've always dreamed of doing, and you know, this has kind of provided me that opportunity to think that that is possible,” said Walsh.

Melillo said he is excited for the future of The Wanderlust Group as a place that puts employees and quality of life first and does not plan to go back to a typical workweek again.