This company found a cure for employee burnout: a four-day workweek (2024)

Primary co-founders and co-CEOs Cristina Carbonell and Galyn Bernard shifted the online children's clothing retailer to a four-day workweek during the pandemic and have no plans to go back to the longer week.

Courtesy: Primary

Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs and rethinking what they want when it comes to work and work-life balance. Companies are responding, meeting their employees' needs in areas like remote work, flexible hours, four-day workweeks, compensation and more. This story is part of a series looking at the "Great Reshuffle" and the shift in workplace culture that is taking place right now.

Online children's clothing retailer Primary's four-day workweek was born out of the harsh impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its employees.

Endless weeks of juggling work and home life were taking their toll on workers.

"Everyone was just really burnt out by the end of the week," said Christina Carbonell, Primary's co-founder and co-CEO.

"When folks were coming back in on Monday, people were just not refreshed and it was affecting productivity," she said.

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In May 2020, the New York-based company shortened its workweek, and Carbonell noticed an instant change, with people showing up to work rejuvenated.

That perk has since become part of the culture — and will be carried over after the public health crisis passes, as long as it works the way it's intended. That means focused employees and no drop in productivity.

"It does feel life-changing, knowing that you have that day to catch up on everything, whether it's thinking about a hard work problem or grabbing a doctor's appointment that you haven't gotten around to," said Galyn Bernard, co-founder and co-CEO at Primary.

An online-only retailer, Primary doesn't have the hassle of staffing bricks-and-mortar shops. Its 60 employees work regular hours Monday through Thursday, except for the customer support team, which is staffed on a four-day schedule that includes Friday. The pay rate is not downsized to reflect the shortened week.

It does feel life-changing, knowing that you have that day to catch up on everything.

Galyn Bernard

Co-founder and co-CEO of Primary

Efficiency is seen as key. What's more, meetings have been trimmed — and some hours are blocked off as meeting-free.

With the four-day workweek in place, deadlines for seasonal launches weren't changed and products arrived in the warehouses on time.

"We didn't have to back off of our ambition or our goals, or lighten up the workload for people," Bernard said. "They really rose to the occasion."

A leg up in the Great Reshuffle

Primary's leadership team cites twin goals: employees' wellness combined with the company's overall success.

The changes at Primary are happening during the so-called Great Reshuffle era, with Americans walking away from their jobs in record numbers.

"As we've looked back over the last couple of years, what we've seen is our attrition rate staying pretty flat, which I consider a huge win," said Cap Watkins, the company's chief experience officer.

As for job seekers and new hires, many are at first skeptical of a four-day workweek policy.

"The response from new hires is that it seems too good to be true; they can't believe that we actually do it," Carbonell said. "[But] it certainly is appealing to everyone who is looking to find the right balance in their lives."

A movement underway

U.S. companies that have four-day workweeks are few and far between, but interest in the concept is slowly building.

In addition to the handful of employers that currently offer the shortened week, 35 companies in North America are set to start a trial of the initiative in April. It's part of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global's plan, which has one pilot program underway in Ireland and one starting in the United Kingdom in June.

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The idea of a four-day workweek gained traction during the pandemic as the crisis changed the way people thought about their lives. That helped bring about a culture shift among employers to develop work schedules around employees' well-being.

"People are coming to the idea that we need to be better in the workplace," said Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College who will be conducting research on the global four-day workweek trials. "We need to be humane."

Primary's co-founders agree. "Throughout the pandemic, people will ask, 'When are you going back?' " Carbonell said.

"For us, there's not really a 'going back,' " she said. "There's just sort of a new way forward that lets us imagine a new way for us to work."

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This company found a cure for employee burnout: a four-day workweek (2024)


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