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While any employee can benefit from an extra day off, the reality is that women, especially parents and caregivers, typically bear more household responsibilities such as childcare and cleaning.kate_sept2004

It’s 12pm on a Friday afternoon in April and Elissa Riddell is enjoying a day away from her desk. It’s not a vacation or a long weekend for the tech marketing director, though. She’s had Fridays off since 2019 when she successfully negotiated herself into a four-day work week. In fact, Ms. Riddell has worked four days a week at her last three employers – one of which has since expanded the modified schedule company-wide.

“Some weeks, I use my Friday to get caught up on deep reading or heads-down brainstorming,” Ms. Riddell explains. “But it’s my choice to use that time. Other weeks, we’re going to the campsite early, or I’m scrubbing baseboards.”

During Ms. Riddell’s four days at work, she says that she’s more productive and focused.

“Knowing I only have 32 hours in a workweek, I’m very conscientious of where I spend my time,” she says. Ms. Riddell will decline meeting invites if she doesn’t believe her presence is adding value. “I’ve become much better at prioritizing and making sure what I’m working on is actually going to drive the objectives, the metrics, the things that I need to accomplish.”

A boon for women, especially parents and caregivers

While once considered a workplace luxury, the four-day workweek has gained popularity since the pandemic forced employers to adopt more flexible schedules. Saskatchewan-based tech company Coconut Software began piloting a four-day workweek in August 2021, making the change permanent by November. And the Juno College of Technology, in Toronto, is transitioning to a four-day work week in 2022.

Both organizations are women-led. While any employee can benefit from an extra day off, the reality is that women, especially parents and caregivers, typically bear more household responsibilities such as childcare and cleaning.

“Women, especially those with younger children, talk about how they have no weekend,” explains Sima Sajjadiani, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resources at the UBC Sauder School of Business. “The whole weekend goes to shopping, cleaning, laundry.”

While a four-day work week can have benefits, Dr. Sajjadiani is concerned that women could be choosing to have an extra day off in exchange for lower pay, if that option is available to them.

“If we care about diversity and inclusion, this is something that organizations should pay attention to, because that can lead to pay inequalities,” she says.

More efficiency, more revenue

While the division of unpaid household labour is gradually shifting towards a more equitable divide, employers can also play a part to ensure that all employees get the time off that they need. Quinn Ross, a partner at the Ross Firm, a law firm in Huron County, Ont., began piloting a four-day work week in May 2020, just two months into the pandemic.

“We did baseline qualitative and quantitative surveys prior to initiating it,” Mr. Ross explains.

The results speak for themselves. “Not only were we able to maintain our revenue levels, but we increased them by another 20 per cent,” he says. “People were better able to do their work more efficiently.”

Since switching to a four-day week, the Ross Firm has tripled its staff and has opened three new offices, adding to its existing three locations.

Dr. Sajjadiani cautions that implementing a four-day workweek is “not an easy solution” for employers.

“It’s a very good idea, but it needs a lot of planning,” she says. “If you have designed this job for one person, now you have to spend time changing the design of the jobs and redistributing the tasks between people. [You may have to] hire and train more people.”

She also worries that some workers may struggle to fit all of their tasks into four days. It could mean an intense and stressful four days of work in exchange for one free day.

“It may not be realistic for every work environment,” Dr. Sajjadiani says.

An enticement in the war for talent

With companies currently facing difficulties in hiring and retention, Dr. Sajjadiani does believe that a four-day workweek can help companies entice and keep staff. However, should the labour markets evolve to favour employers over employees, she believes benefits like this could erode.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ross has seen a marked improvement in staffing at his law firm, thanks to the switch. “Attrition is almost eliminated, which is unprecedented in our market,” he says.

While Ms. Riddell is the only one of 12 employees on a four-day workweek at her organization, she’s hopeful that it will soon expand to be a company-wide policy so that her colleagues can benefit from the Fridays off that she currently enjoys.

“I’m able to take my kids out of daycare early,” says Ms. Riddell. “We can go to the park. I can go get my errands done at Costco. It just gives me that breathing space so that on the weekends, I can actually be present with my family.”

Ask Women and Work

Question: I’m interested in marketing myself as a subject matter expert for media interviews, speaking engagements, etc. I’m quite experienced in my field and I believe I’m a good speaker, but I’m not sure where to start. What are the best steps to take to boost my social media presence and public profile?

We asked Diana YK Chan, LinkedIn Top Voice, executive career and confidence coach and global speaker at My Marketability, to field this one:

I have a formula for how to stand out and get more opportunities: Increase your marketability, visibility, credibility and likability.

Marketability is essentially about personal branding. The first step is getting really clear on what your brand is. What differentiates you? What do you want to be known for? Once you know that, you can work on marketing yourself as an expert.

Position yourself as an expert on your LinkedIn profile by indicating your domain expertise and that you’re a speaker. As an example, I want to do more global speaking. So earlier this year, I added “Global Keynote Speaker” in my LinkedIn tagline and I started to attract more global speaking opportunities, including two talks to the United Nations.

The second part of the formula is visibility, which ties into content creation and networking. Create content consistently around your domain expertise. You also want people to get to know more about you as a person, so storytelling content can be very helpful because then you become more relatable. For example, I started sharing more of my own story on social media, and that has really resonated with the audience and led to conversations and opportunities. To get more speaking opportunities, I recommend creating a speaking reel or video content for people to get a feel of your style and expertise.

Networking and relationship-building can also really help with visibility. That can be about adding value-driven comments on people’s posts or doing direct outreach and initiating conversations with people. This can then lead to collaborations, such as being invited to be a guest on someone’s podcast, and then having them as a guest on yours. These kinds of collaboration opportunities increase your visibility, which leads to the third part of the formula: credibility. The more you put content out there and connect with others, the more referrals you will get and the more credible you become.

Lastly, there’s the likability piece. People do business with those who they know, like and trust. Likability is all about showing curiosity and warmth towards others to build that trust and rapport. To earn referrals and a credible reputation, you need to pay it forward and help others too.

It’s all about increasing your EQ – your emotional intelligence. As I like to put it: Always be connecting, always be curious and always be cultivating.

In summary, when you work on increasing on elevating your marketability, visibility, credibility and likability, you’ll naturally stand out and generate more opportunities. Ultimately, you increase your income as well.

Globe Women's CollectiveThe Globe and Mail

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