Written by Ashley Miller
Over the past few years, Catalyst has made an intentional shift to center care in all that we do, including in how we work. We’re primarily in the business of relationships, so we’ve always been people-focused and adaptive. But our policies and practices didn’t quite reflect our shared humanity the way we wanted, the way we knew they could. Our staff are full human beings with rich lives both at and outside the workplace. We wanted to honor that truth, to better center equity, to attract and retain talent, and once we were done, to model what can be possible in our sector and our region. So, this is the story of how Catalyst decided to prioritize wellness by reducing our overall worktime and moving to a four-day workweek model. This is how we let care for one another lead the way.
It starts with an internal survey. (Stick with me, it gets better.) In spring 2021, we asked our team for their thoughts on our various benefits and policies, our cultural norms and practices, through a survey and open conversation. It became clear that the policies on paper did not reflect the reality of the organization and its people, nor where we wanted to go. The policy language was dry, restrictive, untrusting. Our reality was flexible, adaptive, creative, and aspirational. We wanted to center humanity more in our policies. And one of the ways we were interested in better centering wellness was by exploring a practice we were all hearing a lot about – the 4-day work week.
Fast forward to 2023. Our staff had nearly doubled in size and the landscape of our lived experiences had changed in big ways. The interest in the 4-day workweek had only grown, and leadership was on board. We were ready, philosophically and practically, to take our musings from 2021 and dig deeper with a test, learn, adapt model.
Led by a working group of three, we started with research. It didn’t take long to learn that other organizations found the long-term benefits of shifting from 40 hours to 32 hours of work per week far outweigh the initial challenges, especially given some of the harms of the 40-hour work week. We consulted peer organizations* that had undergone this change and designed a pilot program to be implemented in summer 2023. From July-September 2023, our entire staff reduced their work time to 32 hours. (And this is important: reduced schedule did not and will not equate to reduced pay.) Our goal was to improve work-life balance equitably, and our hypothesis was that we could maintain our high standard of support to members and partners while increasing flexibility and quality of life for all staff. So, we put that to the test.
Test, Learn, Adapt
To start, we practiced having no-meeting Fridays and we thinned out and reduced internal meetings. Anything that could be an email or Slack message instead of a meeting moved to a different medium. Then, we took a big next step and clarified organizational priorities to help us readjust collective and individual workloads. We could do a great deal, but we couldn’t do everything in the same way, or at least not on the timelines we had envisioned before. So, we readjusted and empowered ourselves and one another to say no when a project didn’t align with our priorities. (Full disclosure, saying no was – and continues to be – difficult.)
To set ourselves up for success, we assigned everyone a buddy and encouraged them to touch base informally on how they were feeling throughout the pilot. These chats were so encouraging and supportive, and gave us a chance to think creatively together with folks we don’t collaborate with as frequently. And it just helped keep caring for one another properly centered.
To track our progress along the way, we conducted a pre-pilot survey, biweekly pulse check surveys, and a post-pilot survey, and we shared and discussed the findings as a group as we went. While results like “less stressed in my personal life” won’t surprise you, general enthusiasm was peppered by questions about how to continue to provide the best support to our members; what happened when an event fell on a Friday and we needed to participate; and if everyone had an equal opportunity to disconnect in the newly “free” time.
Intentionality, collaboration, and transparency were critical throughout this process. Those tasked with implementing the pilot listened to successes, concerns, and other feedback with an open heart. We all fine-tuned our approaches along the way in response to the findings and the conversations.
At the end of the pilot, we looked at the data we had gathered along the way and reflected honestly together. Our experience mirrored the research – there were challenges, sure, but the outcome was overwhelmingly positive. Our individual and collective quality of life had been better on the 4-day schedule, we reported reduced stress, and the pace and quality of our work didn’t suffer. We still had some anxieties around such a big change, but we had done our homework and we were as ready as we would ever be. And as we prepare for the next step, we’ve been growing more and more excited!
So, starting February 1, Catalyst is open Monday-Thursday during regular business hours, and is closed Friday-Sunday to protect time for staff wellness, rejuvenation, and non-Catalyst obligations. We will continue to be there for members and community partners as we always have and will take an adaptive change management style to all of this, listening with an open heart to all feedback and adjusting along the way. (If you’re a member or partner with observations to share, please let us know!)
We are also implementing a revamped benefit structure that ensures everyone has the time they need away from work to tend to their own health as well as outside obligations like caregiver duties during both mundane and major life events – again, without sacrificing pay. This piece is a critical component to ensuring equity is centered in this work as well.
We recognize the privilege we have in being able to do any of this. We are fortunate to be able to invest in our staff and organization, minimize burnout, and maximize sustained and impactful work, while honoring each person’s full humanity. At the same time, we hope to serve as a thought partner so that others can find ways to do the same in whatever way is possible at this moment in their organization. Centering care opens up so many possibilities for our sector and our region, and the people within them, and is sure to serve us—and the communities we support—well in the long run.
*Massive thanks to Funders for LGBT Issues, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, the Women’s Foundation of California, and so many others for leading the way in this work!