Is This a Game Changer in the Debate Over the Four-Day Work Week?

The Valley of the Sun may be ground-zero for the debate over the four-day work week. (Photo illustration by Dreamstime).

Get ready for another big push for the four-day work week.

Last month when my colleague Lance Haun asked, “Whatever Happened to the Four-Day Work Week?” he noted that, “while the public sector has continued to embrace the four-day work week, private corporations have been hesitant.

This seemed backward, he reasoned, because generally these kind of HR and workplace-changing policies bubble up from private industry, not from the work-rule intensive, adverse-to-change public sector.

And even at that, the list of cities and municipalities that had embraced the benefits of a four-day work schedule wasn’t particularly impressive – usually places like Winston-Salem, N.C., Westminster, CO, and Indio, CA.

Well, the four-day work week argument may be getting ready to heat up now that a little bit bigger player is entering the debate, according to the Arizona Republic:

Thursday could become the new Friday for thousands of Phoenix city employees in an effort to save money and keep workers happy.

Phoenix officials are considering mandatory Fridays off for administrative employees but would exempt those who support functions that can’t be shut down such as water-plant employees, aviation workers and public-safety staff.

If approved, Phoenix would become the largest municipality in the state and the country on a mandatory four-day schedule, where employees typically work 10-hour days with Fridays off.”

Not surprisingly, a number of smaller Arizona cities in the Valley of the Sun are already on a four-day work week, including Mesa and Peoria. And going to this kind of a schedule can save money.

According to the Arizona Republic,” Mesa saved about $53,000, or 8.4 percent of its energy costs, by closing 10 buildings on Fridays,” during the first eight months they were on the four-day work week schedule.

Why can’t more private employers make it work?

More importantly, if a city the size of Phoenix – fifth largest in the United States – can make a four-day work week work, why can’t even larger cities, states and municipalities? Better still, why can’t more private employers make it work, too?

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My colleague Lance Haun addressed this in his June post when he commented on the rigidity of public worker schedules being helpful to putting a four-day work week into place. This isn’t nearly as prevalent in the private sector, he noted, and that’s why private employers haven’t been as quick to embrace the concept.

Well, maybe that’s true, but then again, maybe the benefits of having workers on a more flexible and non-traditional work schedule just haven’t been as clear cut for private employers as they have been for public sector managers struggling to deal with tax revenues that have been steadily falling as our economic struggles continue. After all, isn’t a four-day work week a lot better cost-saving option than another round of furloughs?

And that brings me back to my original point: if a city as large and complex as Phoenix can make a four-day work week a viable option that balances productivity and cost savings, why can’t more private sector businesses give it a go?

In other words, Phoenix and Arizona may be getting ready to pull us into another nationwide debate over this concept, and I say it’s about time, because the four-day work week is an idea whose time has clearly come.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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4 Comments on “Is This a Game Changer in the Debate Over the Four-Day Work Week?

  1. To answer your question “why can't more private employers make it work, too?”, I think they won't be willing because most, if not all, private employers are operating in the competitive marketplace. They are competing for customers, investors, market share, etc. If a private employer's stakeholders see them going to a four day workweek, their impression will not be positive in comparison to another company who sticking to the traditional five days workweek.

    The public sector can do it because they are not in the competitive marketplace and don't need to be concerned about customers, investors and market share.

    Personally, I don't like the ten hour day. I've done it and I cannot be productive for ten hours, four days in a row. It's exhausting. I am far more productive working five eight hour days. It's also difficult on the family as you are home and “present” less frequently. You either have to leave earlier or get home later after dinner and when you do get home you're tired and not able to fully participate in your family activities (help with homework, dinner with the family at a decent hour, conversation with the kids, kid's after school events and activities, time with your spouse, etc.). Throw in a long commute and you are basically home in time to just to sleep four days out of the week. Having Friday off every week is nice but the kids are in school and spouse is at work so you don't really gain anything except getting one full day to run errands or get other things done – all of which could get done throughout the traditional work week.

    I suppose I would have a completely different opinion if I was single with no kids.

  2. I worked a four-day week a long time ago at a newspaper in a galaxy far, far away. I LOVED the four-day work week because:

    * Most days were pretty well shot from working anyway, so a few more hours wasn't really a big deal.
    * It gave me a three-day weekend every single week.
    * I loved having a day off during the business week (I was off Sat-Sun-Mon) to accomplish things you can only do during the business week.
    * That third day off every week really allowed me time to rejuvenate. I was much more refreshed when I returned to the job after three consecutive days off.

    In reality, most people who are on a salary and engaged in their job are probably already working the better part of a 10 hour day anyway. Given that, I think a lot more private employers working in the competitive marketplace can make this work than you might think.

    And, wouldn't a four-day work week be something that not only attracts better talent but also serves to motivate an better engage the workforce? Again, I think this is an idea whose time has come.

  3. I think a big factor that no one has mentioned is the FLSA — public sector employers have much greater flexibility to allow employees to bank compensatory time off, which makes it easier to have flexible scheduling. Private sector employers are still restricted for non-exempt workers: they have to pay time and half for hourse over 40 in a workweek, which makes it more complicated — and often more expensive — to put in place flexible schedules.

    Of course I think the most widely violated labor law is comp time — but no one complains because employees and employers both value flexibility.

  4. John –

    What about a forced 10-hour workday and mandatory Friday's off is “flexible”? I don't know if I could work 10 hours straight without feeling burned out.

    A truly enlighted flexible work schedule is something more like ROWE, where the number of hours and the location are not as important as the work that's getting done.

    There is no such thing as a perfect system – ROWE certainly has it flaws, too. But the idea that everyone loves a 4 day work week and employers need to wrap their heads around that… I don't buy it.

    Chris

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