With gas prices breaking the $4.00 per gallon mark, it’s no secret that employees are feeling the burden of long commutes and soaring fuel costs. Where Great Workplaces Start has already examined some of the ways that organizations are providing gas relief to employees, and now we’ll look closer at one of these options – the four-day work week.
History of the Five-Day Work Week
How did we get to the popular five-day work week that most organizations follow today? Certainly at some point in time there was no traditional “work week” and “weekend”. Generations ago, tradesmen worked every day, often for hours on end. One theory is that the five-day work week began with Henry Ford, who cut the work week short in an attempt to retain his employees, thus creating the five-day work week and the traditional weekend. (“Economic Myths: The 5 Day Work Week And The 8 Hour Day“)
Are Organizations Really Implementing a Four-Day Work Week?
Yes. They really are. And not just small organizations. Need an example? According to the Associated Press, “Utah is about to become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for thousands of government employees.” (“Utah is going to a 4-day workweek to save energy,” AP) Government employees will begin putting in four 10-hour workdays rather than five 8-hour workdays. The move was put in place to ease the strain on government employees earning lower hourly wages. Many other state and local governments, colleges and organizations are considering a move to condensed work weeks as well.
The Good: Why Condensed Work Weeks Might Be Here To Stay
Organizations are certainly using four-day work weeks to appease employees, but there are other benefits beneath the surface. For employees with families, this might mean one less day they need to pay for child care, and one more day that they get to spend with their kids. For employers with large offices or plants, turning off the power (air conditioning, heat, computers, etc.) can translate to quite a large energy savings each year. In Utah, the state will save about $3 million…per year. This should help the environment as well through the reduction of CO2 from manufacturing plants and offices as well as emissions from commuters’ vehicles. For organizations looking to recruit young talent, a three-day weekend can be a very appealing perk.
The Bad: Why Condensed Work Weeks Might Fail
Four-day work weeks are being adopted by several organizations, however most are on a trial basis. There are several potential downsides that employers and employees should consider before adopting a condensed work week.
One obvious concern is the productivity of an organization operating on a shortened work week. Not only are employees missing an entire calendar day of work, but the office is also closed for one work day, which might not please customers. According to Forbes magazine, a big issue for businesses is being available during the hours their clients keep. (“Is A Four-Day Work Week Good For Business?,” Forbes) An example of a four-day work week that didn’t work? Right here in Ohio. According to the PBS Nightly Business Report, “the state government of Ohio recently went back to a five-day week after complaints about a lack of service on Fridays.” (“Four Day Work Weeks,” PBS Nightly Business Report)
In terms of personal scheduling, families may have to pay for an additional 2 hours of childcare each day, and scheduling appointments or even socializing might become difficult during the week.
There are definitely many things to consider before making an organizational change of this kind. Before you jump right in, be sure to weigh the positives against the negatives. If you do decide to adopt a condensed work week, consider doing so on a trial-basis, keeping in mind that it will affect each organization differently.