I run the first Chick-fil-A to offer a 3-day workweek. We received 400 applications for a single job despite the 14-hour shifts.

I run the first Chick-fil-A to offer a 3-day workweek. We received 400 applications for a single job despite the 14-hour shifts.
  • 41-year-old Justin Lindsey is the local operator of Chick-fil-A Kendall in Florida.

  • He designed a schedule that allows employees to work consistent, full-time hours in three days.

  • He says the program has improved employee work-life balance, burnout, career growth, and retention.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Justin Lindsey, the owner-operator of Chick-fil-A Kendall in Miami-Dade County, Florida. His words have been edited for length and clarity.

One of the things I really set out to do when we opened this restaurant in June of 2021 was what I called "leading with generosity."

For me, that has two main parts: One is pay, making sure we paid a really competitive wage. And the second is time, to provide my teams with more of a balanced approach to the job.

Traditionally, we had used the term "the gift of time" to refer to serving our guests in a quick and timely fashion. But we had always left employees out of that equation. My idea was to provide staff with this gift of time by creating a scheduling system where they would know exactly what days they worked for as long as they work here.

From one week to the next, employees' days off changed pretty dramatically, so I set out on a mission to see if I could create a more consistent schedule. What came out of it was the existing three-day workweek that we use now.

Now employees can look at the calendar six months in advance and know these are the three days that they work on any given week. Traditionally, at least at Chick-fil-A, that was never a possibility before.

I split the team into two "pods" that rotate between three-day blocks of 13- to 14-hour shifts

Chick-fil-A restaurant
Chick-fil-A restaurant

Chick-fil-A is famously closed on Sundays.Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Even before the restaurant actually opened, I started mapping out a couple different things: one, how can I take the guesswork out of their schedules? And then tied to that was from a business side, how do we get more consistent?

Normally at Chick-fil-A, it's a revolving door all day long. Somebody comes in and opens and then they leave at one or two o'clock in the afternoon, and then a whole new group comes in and closes up. Employees didn't like the schedule because they never really knew what day they were going to have off, and we didn't like it either from a business perspective.

So I started playing with the numbers and thinking, "what would it look like to combine some of these shifts?" Instead of doing 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., what would it look like to do like 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. as an example, and have somebody who's there for multiple days, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Then I started looking at what would happen if we took our team leaders and cut the team in half, splitting the team into what's known as the two "pods." 

I realized I couldn't schedule those really long shifts and do a normal five-day workweek. That's why I created three-day segments, where they'd be working with the same group of people day in and day out. This would also allow them to get really comfortable and good at working with one another.

We officially started the pod program in February. It's primarily for full-time staff who work 40-hours a week, split between three days. As of today, we have 25 team members and 18 team leaders doing it and it continues to grow.

I incorporated feedback from managers into the program's design

When we first announced the idea of the 3-day workweek, some managers were under the impression that they would have to be on-call during the days they weren't working. They asked me, "do I need to be available if we're short somebody or something like that?" I told them absolutely not. If you're off, do whatever it is that you want to do. It's your time, your time doesn't belong to me.

The other initial feedback was, how are we going to communicate between the two groups if they don't interact with one another? One of the cool things that we worked through was creating this communication script that we use every week for every pod.

The employees go through and list out every single thing that occurred during the last three days they were in the restaurant — everything from broken equipment to attendance issues. So when the second pod shows up, they can read this mini rundown newsletter of exactly what's been going on in the restaurant.

That came about because of questions from managers before we implemented the pod system. It was really good feedback. It makes them be very intentional about communicating and from what we've seen, it's worked really well.

We received 429 job applications for the program in one week

Chick-fil-A Kendall staff.
Chick-fil-A Kendall staff.

Chick-fil-A Kendall staff now only have to work two Saturdays a month.Courtesy of Chick-fil-A Kendall

We posted a job for a full-time team member on the three-day workweek, and in a period of a week, we had 429 applications. We conducted 40 interviews in one day. It just shows there's people who really want to work in this industry.

Retention has also been strong. What I don't see — in terms of the way we measure retention at the restaurant level — is what I've previously seen during my 12 years serving as the Chick-fil-A owner-operator. It had always become a struggle if another restaurant or another business opened around us and they were paying a little bit more than we would, we'd occasionally see people leave. Now we don't experience that.

There's been people that we've had to remove from the program. The three-day workweek, in a lot of ways, exposes the really good and the really bad and in terms of performance, because you're there for such a long period of the day.

It's also allowed us to uncover up-and-coming talent that otherwise could have slipped through the cracks. Before we did this system, you just had so many managers coming and going throughout the day that it was kind of hard to gauge talent and really develop talent.

What we've found with this system in particular is we've been able to really spot talent a lot faster than we previously could and be a little bit more agile, move a little bit quicker, and promote people faster.

I think that's so powerful because when you look at retention and you look at why people have traditionally left, based just from my experience, a lack of career growth and development was a big reason why.

This system opened up that growth. On the other side, it also exposes when somebody is struggling and allows us to put them back through that development process that we have.

One of the biggest strengths of the program itself is when I look in the dining room and I see three or four tables with my leaders out there doing development meetings. I see that almost on a day-to-day basis when I come in and I never saw that before. Because the truth was, they just didn't have time to do it with how the traditional schedule was structured.

Staff say the schedule has improved their life outside of work — from graduating college to traveling

Chick-fil-A Kendall staff
Chick-fil-A Kendall staff

Courtesy of Chick-fil-A Kendall

I always say the three-day workweek doesn't work for everyone, but for those that it does, it's really powerful to see the impact that it has on their lives.

Recently, I was talking to one of our managers who just graduated from the University of Central Florida. Now she's going to be pursuing a master's degree. She just poured her heart out and told me point blank that there's no way she would have been able to graduate if she was working the traditional five-day schedule.

That opened my eyes to thinking "wow, what if we had not done this? Would she actually still be one of my key managers?" She's a core part of our management team and I know how important school is to her and for her future, so when I hear things like that, I'm like, okay, this is pretty powerful stuff.

Another employee told me they took a road trip on their seven days off to go to New York City because they wanted to see the leaves change. She literally used zero hours of PTO and she took a road trip to New York City.

Our team, they love this industry, they love Chick-fil-A, and they love doing their jobs. They just wanted some things to change, and they just wanted some options. I think that's all we did — just met them where they're at and said, hey, this may not work for all of you. But if you want this, it's out there for you. We can make it work.

It probably would have been a whole lot easier on myself, especially as a restaurant owner, to just keep doing things the old way. It definitely would have been a lot easier, a lot less conversations, a lot less planning, and things like that. But I'm so incredibly happy and grateful that Chick-fil-A has given me the opportunity to do this. Because the impact that I'm able to have on my team, honestly, I mean, it's incredible.

Will this work for everybody? I don't know. All I know is our team is happy, they're motivated, they're energized, and they're eager to serve people. Hopefully other people see that and try it out and maybe it helps other people as well.

Read the original article on Business Insider