- ThredUP, an online clothing-consignment company, adopted a four-day workweek last year.
- The company's distribution workers, who are paid hourly, got more flexibility with their schedules.
- These two changes have helped caregivers and boosted morale and productivity, an executive said.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Natalie Breece, the chief people and diversity officer at ThredUP, an online clothing-consignment company. Breece says moving to a four-day workweek in 2021 has boosted morale, helped caregivers, and given employees the opportunity to pursue their passion projects, or even go back to school. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Our CEO, James Reinhart, has always been relentless about creating an environment where people can do their best work. At our company, we think that means creating a culture where workers have adequate downtime to care for themselves and feel like they have time to invest more in the things that matter most to them.
He was intrigued by the four-day workweek and how it might help the company's 1,800 employees. He and our executive team started asking themselves: Why is it that, as humans, we believe we need two days of rest and five days of work? What would life look like if we changed that?
So in January 2021, we decided to test a four-day workweek for corporate staffers and adopted more flexible scheduling for our distribution-center workers, who are paid hourly and set the number of hours they work with their managers. When 2022 rolled around, we adopted these changes as company policy, and we haven't looked back.
Some of our staffers work Monday through Thursday; others work Tuesday through Friday. Our distribution workers have more flexibility around the hours they work. It's helped us deepen our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
We're creating equity for employees of all backgrounds
It's been beneficial from a gender-equity perspective because we're leveling the playing field for both moms and dads, which means they get to spend more time with their kids.
One male employee with a 10-month-old recently told me how Fridays were now his day to bond with his baby. He said he wouldn't have had that opportunity elsewhere. Other parents tell me they don't have to spend as much money on childcare since they can do it themselves on their extra day off.
For me, I know I can stop by my children's classroom or their after-school activities. There's a lot of mental anguish when you're a parent and can't go to your child's sports game or concert. Now I have more opportunities to show up for my 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. I really feel like I have the best of both worlds with work and home life.
But the four-day workweek isn't just about caregivers. It's also helped our employees who don't have children or anyone to care for. These people have passions that they want to pursue outside work. We have some distribution workers who are now able to take continuing-education classes or get their GEDs because of our flexible schedules. Some have said they've chosen to take on a second job to supplement their income.
Others tell me they now have time to go to their favorite exercise class once a week and that they feel better because of it. Monday or Friday, depending on which four days they work, is now their errands day and workout day, so they can spend Saturday and Sunday recharging. That helps reduce stress and burnout.
Everyone has more time to devote to their lives, however they choose. I think that creates a lot of equity.
In an employee survey last year of our corporate salaried employees, 93% of respondents agreed that the four-day workweek had improved their productivity. Voluntary turnover among corporate staffers has decreased by 55% compared with 2019. And more than half of new hires said the four-day workweek tipped the scale in their decision to join our company. It's been good for our bottom line.
Prioritizing tasks and reducing meetings are key
There were some growing pains in adopting the four-day workweek. Some employees were concerned about whether they could get their work done in the same amount of time. But what happens is teams naturally form new dynamics. You start to prioritize the most timely, important things even more. So maybe for some teams, the solution was fewer meetings. Maybe other meetings were recorded so employees on different schedules could still view them.
There are still challenges when certain months or certain quarters are more hectic than others. For example, our accounting team closes the books monthly and quarterly. So they have to plan when it comes to getting the work done while keeping a four-day workweek. One of the biggest learnings we've had as a company is how to prioritize.
Workers say they feel happier and more productive
But the benefits definitely outweigh any challenges. When you think about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, this new work setup helps on a few fronts. I think it's creating equity among genders that allows people to participate in childcare or eldercare, to get more time with their family, and to engage in home responsibilities. I think men traditionally have felt that it's less accepted for them to lean in to home life, but we've created the space for them to do that.
There's a sense of belonging, too. We're normalizing the fact that people have passions outside work. We're building a culture where you can be passionate about your work and about things outside work.
This affects families in big ways, too. One employee told me that she's now able to sit in on her daughter's behavioral-therapy sessions. As a result, her daughter's progress has accelerated because her mom has more time to learn from the therapist in real time.
It's stories like these that help me know we made a great choice. Our mission is to create a sustainable workforce and help build a circular economy with regard to fashion. The four-day workweek is helping us do that.