The concept and feasibility of four-day work weeks has been discussed in recent weeks, but it’s far from being a new idea.
“They used to use it, particularly in the (1960s) and early ’70s. From what I read about it, the concept was certain employees would be off on Friday to go play golf or whatever, and they used to bring in what they used to call a ‘Girl Friday’ that would handle their desk,” said Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Schalow. “Before, it was very unique to a few. Today, it’s a win-win for the employer and employee, the whole nine yards.”
Reilly White, associate professor of finance and assistant dean of teaching and learning with the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management, said data he found shows the average American works just under 1,800 hours annually, more than workers in Canada and Germany.
He said additional data shows workers prefer schedule flexibility, which can help people reduce stress, manage life more effectively and become more engaged at work. He also said employers would need to monitor productivity, doing things like shortening meetings and defining clear goals for employees.
White said in order for employers to manage possible overtime pay and avoid putting pressure on employees if they move to a four-day work week, companies will have re-evaluate how they’re structured, if they have enough staffers and whether employees manage time efficiently.
“You want to emphasize human creativity. You want to emphasize trust within your organization. Then when you start that process, employers have to solicit feedback continuously from employees about what’s actually happening,” he said.
Time to recuperate
Depending on the line of work, Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said four 10-hour shifts can be advantageous.
“For employees, it gives them a longer time to recuperate and rest. Employers, they get employees for an extended period for the day without having to pay the overtime for that two-hour bump,” Black said. “Creating flexibility in… how people can get their work done can also make for a more attractive environment for people to come to work. Anything we can do now to help people get back in the workplace is a good thing.”
Schalow said he used to run a company where employees worked Mondays through Thursdays and found that approach “really rewarding.”
“The employees enjoy it because they get three-day weekends, come back refreshed. Employers get folks in there for 10 hours. If you include a lunch (break), it’s basically 11 hours… It makes it much more feasible,” Schalow said, adding that employees could use those extended weekends to take brief vacations without using paid time off.
While he doesn’t favor companies mandating four-day work weeks, Black said employers should be open to the idea. Creating flexible schedules can help prevent employee burnout, help keep those employees and bolster recruitment efforts, he said.
Black also said the four-day work schedule with longer shifts can benefit industries like health care and emergency response because it may be harder for those workers “to break off at the end of the day.”
Child care also relevant
Schalow said since employers are short-staffed as a result of the pandemic, it’s renewing avenues of implementing four-day work weeks.
He said a four-day work week would allow couples to take turns staying home to watch the children, with one spouse home four days a week and the other home three days.
“One will be able to have a full-time job, and the other one will be able to have a part-time job that’s running 20 to 30 hours,” he said. “It helps protect that income. And then the best part is, they’re not paying for child care, which is a significant dollar.”
Schalow said some parents prefer a four-day week with Wednesday off because younger children get out of school early that day.
Despite the possible benefits of switching to four-day work weeks, there are drawbacks.
Black said there’s the concern of fatigue with a longer shift, potentially hampering productivity, and some may prefer shorter workdays to better manage child care.
If employee shifts are Mondays through Thursdays, Schalow said employers would need to plan for Fridays through Sundays if those businesses are open daily. Unless there’s already replacement staff members to fill the gaps, he said it may be challenging for employers to figure out what shifts and operations will look like.
Black and Schalow said employers would need to more proactively plan and rotate shifts accordingly.
“I think creating opportunities that work for our employees in the long run is how we’re going to recruit and retain them,” Black said, mentioning manufacturing job in particular. “You have to think about your shifts differently. You have to think about how you manage your employees and your workstreams differently.”
Black said employers have been resilient throughout the pandemic, and they must remain resilient and creative on how to get the work done.
“Looking at schedules that make it easier for employees to come back to work or stay at work is something that a competitive employer will have to figure out. Yeah, it’s going to come with challenges, but it’s the ones who can overcome those challenges that are going to succeed,” he said. “It is a very difficult time to find employees across every industry right now. I do think this is an area where an employer can differentiate themselves by creating a more flexible schedule.”