Jason Fried is a founder and CEO of 37signals, a software company based in Chicago. Fried also treats 37signals as something of a laboratory for innovative workplace practices – such as a recent experiment in shortening the summer workweek to just four days. We caught up with Fried to learn how employees are like fossil fuels, how a business can be like a cancer, and how one of the entrepreneurs he admires most is his cleaning lady.
FAST COMPANY: You have your employees only work four-day weeks in the summer.
JASON FRIED: Sometimes people are not really used to working just four days and actually want to stay to get more work done.
You’re saying you have people who actually want to stay the fifth day?
When we first started this a few years ago, there was a small sense of guilt in a few corners. People were like, “I have stuff to get done, it’s Thursday, so I’m gonna work Friday and just get it done. But we actually preferred that they didn’t. There are very few things that can’t wait till Monday.
How many employees would stay to work Fridays?
I don’t know.
Because you weren’t there!
We don’t track things in that way. I don’t look at that. I don’t want to encourage that kind of work. I want to encourage quality work.
As CEO, wouldn’t it simply be rational to let people work the fifth day for you if they wanted?
If you’re a short-term thinker you’d think so, but we’re long-term thinkers. We’re about being in business for the long haul and keeping the team together over the long haul. I would never trade a short-term burst for a long-term decline in morale. That happens a lot in the tech business: They burn people out and get someone else. I like the people who work here too much. I don’t want them to burn out. Lots of startups burn people out with 60, 70, 80 hours of work per week. They know that both the people or the company will flame out or be bought or whatever, and they don’t care, they just burn their resources. It’s like drilling for as much oil as you possibly can. You can look at people the same way.