Aesthete Tea owner Brian Thornton

Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you stories about the many changes and adjustments businesses are making as Portlanders head back into the workplace. Read on for more, and pick up the spring issue of Portland Monthly, available on newsstands on March 22.

For a while now, the chatter of a four-day week has circulated in workspaces, online, and around water coolers. While some European countries have welcomed a shortened work structure, the US has been slower to adopt such a concept.

There’s no doubt the past couple of years have created a sea of uncertainty for employees and employers. With the current state of burnout and the "great resignation," is now the time to take a deeper look at a shorter work week? Briana Thornton, owner of the Southwest Portland tea company Aesthete Tea, thinks it is—at least for her business.

What made you want to shift your busines to a four-day work week?

It’s kind of a two year period of things if we're being honest. As our company was growing, we opened a tea house this past summer. We have a really small team of five people. There was an increase of stockists and wholesale accounts, so we were all being pulled in a million directions. People were working really late in the evening and it just didn't seem quite healthy. I had heard of the four-day work week. I previously worked in New York City, in branding, where we had something called Summer Fridays. You got out early, and that always increased productivity, and everyone was always so much happier. I always wanted to incorporate something like that in my company, so I started doing research into what that looked like.

The Aesthete Tea Teahouse in Portland's Multnomah Village.

Does shortening hours mean less pay for employees?

I wanted to make sure my employees were not making less money being that they were getting a day removed. I figured if I increase their pay per hour to equal what they're making in a five-day week, they could just agree to do that amount of work in a shorter amount of time. They get out of work earlier, have more time for themselves and the weekend to just recharge and do what they want to do. It wouldn’t hurt me financially. It was literally just staying the same. So that's what we agreed to do. The idea is, you're working harder within each hour, so you should be compensated for working harder—but you're working less hours.

Tell us about the schedule changing logistics. How did you go about shifting them to four days?

Prior to the change, my administrative director Olivia and I were Monday-Friday, 10-6. Dexter, who's my production house manager who works in the warehouse was Tuesday through Saturday 10-6. Now he is Wednesday - Saturday, 11-5. And then Olivia and I are both Monday-Thursday. A few tea house employees were part time, so this didn't necessarily affect them.

Once your employees were on board, you took to social media to share the news, but received some heavy backlash. What were people upset about?

I posted a photo of an article of a different country that was trying to implement it on a federal level, which I think was wonderful. And I mentioned we're going to be experimenting with the four-day work week. I got backlash about trying to be involved in foreign politics and that this wasn't an American thing. I responded to the comments that were negative and said, ‘I want to clarify, we are not trying to be involved in either American or foreign politics. I have nothing against the standard American 9–5, nor am I trying to make America like a different country.’ The situation was a little bizarre to me because I wasn’t trying to shame any company for having a 9–5, I wasn't trying to be on a high horse. We are in a unique position where this works for us. And in no way would I ever want to shame another company for not being able to try this.

Despite the pushback, you’ve seen positive results from the 4-day work week shift. Can you talk about that?

One week into February I walked into the warehouse on a Monday and it was spotless, completely organized. It’s usually clean, but my warehouse has never look like that. There was a Thursday my administrative director said, 'Oh my God. It's so nice to end my day and not feel like I'm dead going into the weekend. Like I can't function.’ We've had more opportunities that have come up this month than we have in the past because I have more energy to reach out to people and to go to meetings.

How long do you plan to try the 4-day work week schedule for your business?

We initially decided to test it out for a month (February) and I presented it as an experiment. So far, everyone has appreciated it. If there's a moment where it does not work any more, then we'll change direction and do something different. I think that's part of the team that I have, and the people that I bring into my company. I make sure that they have that understanding that we are small, and we are experimental.

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