Field Report: Three day weekend?

Crew members at Sandra Nichols Landscaping in Brentwood, Tennessee, can expect three things in a workweek: long hours, a tough boss and Friday off – every week.

Sandra Nichols, president and owner of the company, implemented the four-day workweek into her company’s schedule several years ago. She was conducting research to improve her company’s productivity. “I tried to figure out what makes employees happy,” Nichols says. “And what I found from reading trade magazines was that time off was the number one thing all employees wanted. I thought, ‘How can I give them time off? What do they mean by time off?'”

The more she pondered this information, the more Nichols was led to a surprising conclusion: A four-day workweek would boost worker morale and make retention of valued employees easier.

Nichols already offered her employees one-week paid vacation after working for the company for a year. After three years, employees get two weeks. In addition, each employee gets one day off each fiscal quarter they can schedule like a vacation day and they can take off work for their birthday. Although it was an admirable time-off package, going to a four-day work week seemed to be the next logical step.

Other companies she heard about had tried the four-day workweek, and all of them were satisfied with the results. But first, Nichols had to make sure it was financially feasible.

“I had to run the numbers and make sure I could afford it because I thought I would have fewer billable hours each week,” Nichols says. “But we make up for it because the employees agree to work longer days, so they still earn the same pay, and they get an extra day off.”

Running a help wanted ad in the paper for a four-day workweek might seem to attract lazy workers, but Nichols’ company has seen opposite results. Some employees are musicians and like the flexibility of being able to work hard during the week and play gigs on the weekends. Other employees have their own mowing business on the side and want to supplement it with extra work, while still being able to maintain their own customers. “It’s not a conflict of interest for me,” Nichols says, “because they can learn how to do a little landscaping and can still keep their mowing customers happy.”

Nichols’ company specializes in residential ornamental landscaping. It also does a lot of maintenance work, and customers can choose the frequency of visits from once a year to up to 12 times a year. An unforeseen benefit of the four-day workweek has been the dependability the company offers its customers. Companies that work five days a week don’t necessarily have the flexibility of the short week, Nichols says.

“We are able to tell customers a date and stick to it with almost no variation,” Nichols says. “If we get rained out, we make the day up on Friday and our employees know that. But if your workers have put in a five-day week, it’s hard to get them to come in on a Saturday.”

Before Nichols implemented the four-day workweek, she had a major company problem: exhausted employees. During the spring, Nichols asked for volunteer crews to work on Saturdays but they were already worn out from the weekly workload. By the end of spring, many people couldn’t do the work anymore.

“I said, ‘I don’t know how to make it any easier, since it’s landscaping,'” Nichols says. “I asked my people what they thought about four-day workweeks, and you would have thought I was offering them double pay.”

Nichols employs nine crew members and has been using the four-day workweek for several years. The schedule works perfectly for her company, but a company offering mowing services has other landscape issues to consider. Nichols suggests taking Mondays off instead of Fridays because customers usually like their grass cut before the weekend. But if it rains on Friday, customers will have tall grass on Monday. Large companies with mowing services may want to have some crews work Mondays through Thursdays and other crews work Tuesdays through Fridays, Nichols says.

“There is no drawback whatsoever that I can see in all the years I’ve been doing it,” she adds. “If I had to entice people to come to work for five days, I wouldn’t do it. I would find another line of business.”

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