Meet the French company where staff work less, but produce more

March 17, 2022 - 6:30 PM
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LDLC computer hardware retailer office staff play bowling at the company headquarters in Limonest near Lyon, France, March 10, 2022. Picture taken March 10, 2022. (Reuters/Lucien Libert)

 When French company boss Laurent de la Clergerie decided to let his staff work a four-day week, on the same pay as before, he knew he risked hurting his bottom line. “Some people took me for a crazy person,” he recalled.

But a year on, he says the opposite has happened: his LDLC company selling consumer technology has increased its annual turnover by 40% without hiring any extra staff.

The secret, he said, is that the approximately 1,000 people his firm employs feel trusted and appreciated, and so they are more productive.

“At the end of the day, it’s brought only good things for the team,” said 51-year-old de la Clergerie.

As the world emerges from a pandemic that prompted many people to re-evaluate their work-life balance, companies and workers around the world are asking if, like de la Clergerie’s firm, they could work less.

Microsoft MSFT.O gave its 2,300 Japan-based employees Fridays off in 2019, and said it saw productivity rise 40%. Consumer group Unilever ULVR.L launched a four-day week trial for local staff in New Zealand. Spanish telecoms company Telefonica TEF.MC has trialled a four-day week for 10% of its domestic workforce.

Johann Peters, who works in one of LDLC’s stores near its headquarters in a suburb of Lyon, south-east France, uses the extra day off to head to the supermarket to pick up his weekly shopping. He then takes his daughter, 9-year-old Melissa, to her tennis practice.

“You come into work after your day off much more rested, and more efficient operationally,” he said.

De la Clergerie said before he embarked on the change, he worked out that even in the worst case scenario, it would add to labour costs by at most 1.5 million euros per year. He said he felt that was a manageable risk.

Since then, he said that absenteeism and sick leaves were down, and that the company had not had to hire new people to offset the reduction in hours worked.

Though the four-day week was not the only factor involved, de la Clergerie said it had contributed to a jump in turnover from around 500 million euros before the change, to close to 700 million euros ($769.86 million) since then.

Celine Henniaux, a 36-year-old who works in one of the firm’s distribution centres, said she had no desire to go back to the way things were before.

“No no,” she said. “We’ve got a taste for having a day off during the week.”

($1 = 0.9093 euros)

—Writing by Christian LoweEditing by Jane Merriman and David Goodman