Our son, currently studying to be an actor, called us the other day to lament the fact that he’d been assigned some Shakespeare. “I thought I’d never have to do this again after high school”, he griped. I felt for him. I was never a fan of The Bard in school and always dreaded the moment when the English teacher would start handing out the next play to read and study in agonizing detail. While still hailed as the crown jewel of English literature, I just never connected with the work; never found the joy in reading it that others have or profess to.
However, after a recent meeting with my business partner I was reminded of a very famous Shakespeare line that really resonates with where we are as a business: “To thine own self be true”. From Act 1, scene 3 in Hamlet, this line (spoken by Polonius to his son as he leaves home) is but one of many that have lasted well into 21st century parlance. Others from Hamlet you’ll recognize; “cruel to be kind”, “something is rotten”, “method in one’s madness”, “shuffle off this mortal coil” and “to the manner born” certainly do speak to Shakespeare’s long-lasting influence and talent for poetic imagery.
Years ago, in what seems like another life now, I was a young account executive responsible for managing business with Zellers. You remember them; “where the lowest price is the law” – not exactly Shakespearean but I digress. Each year the CEO of the Canadian retailer would host a vendor ‘summit’ to outline the company’s core focus and each year it was something different. First it was toys. Then it was entertainment. Next it was health and beauty and then something called “WoMOM”. Even at the time I was struck by how unfocused the company was; always reacting to their environment rather than creating a distinct brand mission and sticking to it. The stores themselves were a representation of that failing; jumbled merchandising, signage and layout and the employees too were scattered and simply trying to keep up with the ever-changing messages from head office. Long before online and digital changed the retail landscape, Zellers predictably went out of business and it was a real shame to see.
But like Shakespearean prose, this lesson continues to live on and it’s where I come back to “to thine own self be true”. It can be so very easy and tempting to chase the shiny object, can’t it? We’ve all been there: ‘Gosh wouldn’t it be great to get that business!’ ‘We should try and move into that sector’. ‘Our competitor just added a great new feature’. The end result of this thinking is inevitably distraction from what made you successful in the first place; what your current clients really appreciate about you and why they recommend you to others. It can also remove you from what you enjoy doing and where your strengths truly lie. You become unfocused and suddenly find yourself without a brand promise, purpose and true value.
While there is a myriad of opportunity out there for a company like ShiftLink, I’m proud that we’ve stayed true to who we are. Even as we grow, we continue to provide robust services that are tailored to our core customer; becoming more than we were but still focused on what we do really well. As Polonius himself said: ‘This above all else, to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as night to day, thou canst not then be false to any man’. I can picture my son rolling his eyes.
My wife will tell you that I can be an old fashioned guy, a bit out of step with current trends. In particular, she’ll tell you about how bullish I have been about casual dress at work. I just don’t believe in it. I’ve always thought that one should dress professionally; if you’re dressed for the beach then you’re in the wrong mindset. I’ve also never been a proponent of having ping pong tables and video games at the office. As a business owner I’m not paying you to play games.
So it might have surprised her when, late in 2021, we decided to move our employees to a 4 day work week, following a burgeoning and, to my way of thinking, important current trend.
Personally I’ve never understood the mentality that suggests working harder is working smarter. I could never wrap my head around the idea that working 60/70 hours a week (or more) was something to celebrate and be proud of, let alone be rewarded for. I always tried to manage in the opposite direction, insisting that my staff take their holidays and having employees’ accrued days off as an agenda item in my meetings with department heads. “Matt has a ton of vacation time left”, I’d say to his manager as we approached the fall. “Why is that?”
I’m really glad to see this idea trending upward. Scotland, Spain and Iceland have all recently experimented with 4 day work weeks, with no impact to employee salaries or benefits. Big name organizations like Bolt and Dockwa are as well, citing improvements in productivity and employee wellness. But it’s not just the hip tech firms. In a country well known for their 90 hour work weeks, Panasonic, the legacy Japanese manufacturer is offering a reduced work week as has Microsoft Japan. In the US, another hard-working nation, Democratic Senator Mark Takano has introduced legislation supporting a 32 hour work week, citing lower child care expenses, reduced health care costs, operating costs and environmental impact as benefits to both companies and employees.
Companies implementing this policy report employees returning to work more refreshed and relaxed, no reductions in corporate culture, reduced absenteeism, increases in staff retention (SO critical right now), increases in productivity and the general feeling that work/life balance (yes, that old myth) was actually now attainable. Some companies are experimenting with variations on the theme; flexible work hours, half day options and so on.
There were over 200,000 vacant shifts posted through ShiftLink in 2021. 200,000! With so much pressure on staffing, increases in anxiety and depression, worker burnout and reduced wellness it’s time for us to stop throwing money at people and start giving them what they really need and want…..time.
The 5 day work week was established in the 1930’s. As we approach the 100th anniversary of that industrial breakthrough it’s time to take the next step, for everyone’s sake. If an outdated, uncool, curmudgeon like me can do it, maybe you can too.