Bolt, a fast-growing fintech startup that makes a one-click checkout platform for online retailers, knows that one of the risks it faces is that its employees will burn out from the demands of the job. That’s why the company became the first tech unicorn to try a four-day work week.
It’s part of the nearly 300-person company’s larger approach to building what it calls a “conscious” business culture. “It’s all about keeping standards of execution high, while still putting the team’s health and well-being first,” says CEO Ryan Breslow.
For the next three months—and permanently, if it works out well—the company is giving employees every Friday off. (Customer-facing teams are the exception, working in shifts to ensure that there’s always coverage, but everyone still gets a four-day schedule). The company has a suggested out-of-office message: “I’m out of the office today because we’re working consciously here at Bolt and are currently experimenting with a four-day workweek. I’ll be back in touch with you on [Monday].”
The new schedule started last week, and before it happened, everyone at the company was tasked with finding ways to make it feasible, auditing their calendars for meetings that could be shortened or eliminated. “If we tried to squeeze in everything we were doing in five days into four days, whether it’s the same number of meetings, the same collaborations, etcetera, I don’t think that will lend itself well to success,” says Nisha Victor, vice president of product at Bolt. “I think the key is to be intentional about how we make the most out of the four days, prioritize the things that we really need to collaborate with other folks on, and start eliminating the meetings where we’re optional attendees.”
In some cases, some people might choose to use Fridays to catch up on some projects. “People say, ‘How do I think about a Friday?’ and we say, the same way you think about a Saturday or a Sunday,” Breslow says. “It doesn’t mean you can’t work. In fact, some people work on weekends. But you know, that three-hour block you do on a Sunday to catch up with your work? You might be able to do that on your Friday. So you have a nice long weekend.” The policy is also flexible, so if a team needs to meet a large deadline, the team members might decide to temporarily work on a particular Friday to meet it. “That is the exception, not the rule,” he says. “We anticipate those instances becoming more and more rare as people adapt to this new way of working within four days.”
Managers consistently tell employees to take time off to recharge, says Breslow. “Time off is critical and that it’s the expectation of the team that when they take time off, they actually unplug. For example, when I take time off, I put my phone and laptop away and am completely unplugged. We recognize that it’s important for our leaders to set an example for the rest of their teams by walking the talk.” Managers and department heads also have the option to declare “team days,” where everyone has time off together to recharge.
Breslow says in his own work, he finds it most helpful to fully take the day off. “Personally, I’ve noticed that my best work is done when I go ‘all in’ on working over four days, and take the long weekend to recover and explore other passions of mine like dancing, meditation, and hiking,” he says. “I have a lot more time to think clearly, be creative, and be strategic.”
Victor, who recently joined the company, says that she was able to use the extra time to “ingest more information and think about connecting dots,” helping her more quickly get up to speed; she also took part of the day last Friday to pick up her son and take him to get a treat, something that she normally wouldn’t have had the time to do. She expects, like Breslow, that the schedule can help make employees more creative. “A lot of what we do is try to solve really hard problems,” she says. “Giving everybody some breathing space to actually model these problems and think about it without interruptions, I’m hoping, will unleash some more creativity.”
Other companies that have experimented with four-day workweeks have found that it actually increases productivity, even as employees work fewer hours. Unsurprisingly, job satisfaction also tends to increase, and stress levels decline. In Japan, where Microsoft piloted a four-day week temporarily in 2019 and saw productivity increase by 40%, the government is now beginning to push companies to adopt the policy. Scotland also plans to test a four-day workweek. In Finland, where similar trials with 2,500 workers were successful, some unions have renegotiated new schedules.
The modern weekend is only about a century old. But new experiments like Bolt’s might help lead to the next step of a permanent three-day weekend. “We’re all creatures of habit and have gotten accustomed to the five-day workweek as the norm when it comes to working,” Breslow says. “So I recognize that the challenge is it’ll take some time for us to get this new and innovative way of working just right.” But, he says, he’s confident that it will work.