Do you work on Fridays? Oh, yes? Well, we don’t.
Say what?! A young agency that’s just starting up and you don’t hustle 7 days a week?
That’s right. Here at Red Basket, we run a four-day work week.
Unconventional? Maybe. But we have our reasons.
The main reason is that we like to keep Mind over Matter. Literally and also metaphorically.
We recently published an article about Red Basket’s values. Yet, we haven’t properly dived into the value that “rules them all”. A principle that guides all our other decisions.
Taking care of our mental health.
As it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to shed more light on why we chose this company value (or why it chose us) and share our story of doing things slightly differently.
When mental health is an afterthought
Increasingly, employers put more and more pressure on their workers’ performance and results, or build work cultures in which people put such pressure on themselves and each other.
In some work cultures I’ve come across, there were people who prided themselves on their ‘hustling’, ‘sleeping at work’, or ‘working all the time, but it’s all good’.
Is it really?
It might drive progress and innovation, sure. But such attitudes have a darker side, too.
Especially in the startup world, this attitude often feels kind of expected. Everyone is hustling; you want your company to succeed, don’t you? You believe in the product or service. So, you give it all.
Such people often do so without fully realizing that there must be a trade off somewhere. Sooner or later, the impact shows up. Usually on one’s health.
Been there, done that. And it’s not pretty.
When we founded Red Basket, both Dave and I admitted out loud to being great hustlers. We were growing the company with full-time jobs on the side, one of us with one extra project on top of that. We thought, “we’ll push through to make it a success, right?”
To be frank, at first I felt like I was on top of the world. I used to tell myself: I love my work. And I love my projects. I don’t mind working until midnight every day, and not having any free time on the weekends.
Oh, the sweet times of naive denial.
All the excitement and passion for my work were making up for the exhaustion that was building up. I never saw my friends; all I did was get through tasks. I thought, it’s temporary. But it grew into a habit and a way of working which I wasn’t able to switch out of easily.
Until one day, a couple of years later, I got a fever and finally allowed myself to relax.
But once I did that, I couldn’t go back. I felt that I couldn’t even come close to my computer.
The result: a 4-month sabbatical.
Luckily, both companies I worked for allowed me to do this and were extremely supportive and understanding. Unfortunately, many people don’t have this “luxury”. (And, sadly, it still feels like luxury to many people.) I was lucky that my co-founder and a stellar friend, Dave, rolled up his sleeves and stepped in for me. He, too, had gone through burnout in his past, and he totally got me.
All this helped me get the much needed rest. But just as importantly, it was a wake up call that quickly pushed me to reshuffle my priorities. I wanted to have a life besides work.
Looking back, this time was a huge learning curve. It taught me just how important having a work-life balance is. I cared about promoting mental health in the past. Or, so I thought; yet, I didn’t put it into practice.
This experience helped me understand just how serious it is and how much more needs to be done to help people when they need it the most.
How we found our values (or they found us)
When I came back to work after burning out, it was around the time we wanted Red Basket to start communicating with the world and focus on brand building.
In order to do that, I went back to our internal document about our brand guidelines, communication, and company culture. I wanted to align our communications and make sure it represented who we were.
As I looked through the list of what we had previously written down as our brand values, I realized not all of them were that relevant. Plus, there were too many of them. (To be fair, we do value a lot of things.)
When I reflected on how we solve problems or behave toward our team members, suppliers, or clients, there were some clear patterns, beliefs, and principles that stood out.
As the next step, I led an internal workshop where we revisited our values. Each of us wrote down the most important values on post-it notes and stuck them on a wall. We arranged similar values into groups. Then, we looked for the words or phrases to include all the similar values into one concept.
After some engaging and fruitful discussions, we arrived at the final five:
- Give it straight
- Think smart
- Go the extra mile
- Better each day
- Mind over matter
We kept the fifth one slightly separate from the other four. In our minds, it seemed like it should almost have its own section. It felt different.
In the end, we realized that it actually sits above all the other values.
One value to rule them all.
As we deeply cared about mental health, and after having gone through burnout, the topic seemed more important than ever. We strongly felt this value reflected who we wanted to be – and who we became.
Our higher goal was to promote the importance of mental health in our industry, and to remind ourselves and everyone we work with that this is the company culture we’re building.
So, there it was. It became official.
How our mental health value plays out in practice
To put this new value into practice, we introduced a four-day work week. It was right around the time of my burnout. The situation reminded us of how important it is to take care of our mental health.
So, we decided to do things differently.
We shared the news with everyone we work with, both team members and customers. Everyone was onboard with it.
Of course, when it comes to urgent matters, we sometimes decide to work on Fridays. Yet, people know they’re not expected to, and it’s down to their choice. We want the team to learn Fridays are theirs: for self-development and learning, life admin, or simply resting.
As a result of doing this, a few things started happening:
- Our meetings are more effective. Knowing that we have a slightly shorter work week, we avoid spending too much time in meetings and try to use meeting time solely for sharing project updates and making decisions.
- We work smart rather than hard. We do a lot of our work asynchronously and respect each other’s focus time in our team. We’re also setting ourselves much more realistic expectations, especially when we’re estimating time scopes for projects.
- We got better at prioritizing tasks. Having less time in a week makes us think twice when prioritizing which internal tasks we’re going to tackle first. It’s easier to have more clarity on what absolutely must be done and what can wait till the next week.
Wrapping it all up
Promoting mental health at work is our priority and we openly encourage conversations on this topic in our team. In light of Mental Health Awareness Month, we decided to share our story with a wider audience. Hopefully, it will inspire open discussions about work-life balance and find the best way to address it that will work for your team. Here’s to keeping minds over matters.