Back in mid-2008, when gasoline prices spiked above $5 per gallon, several states passed laws to facilitate the four-day work week. The results were highly positive, but the short duration of the elevated energy costs meant that momentum towards national acceptance of a four-day workweek was lost. However, the benefits go far beyond simple energy costs savings. It is time to revisit the concept of a four-day workweek!
The state of Utah was the first to institute a four-day workweek for most state employees, and researchers found that 79% of employees reported a positive experience with the four days a week/10 hours a day (4-10) routine and 63% of the employees reported increased productivity. The same employees also reported lower levels of work-family conflict and higher levels of job satisfaction. Utah also found that by implementing a four-day workweek their employees saved $6 million in gasoline costs, cut the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 12,000 metric tons a year, and achieved a 13% reduction in energy use. Fully 82% of state workers say they want to keep the new schedule.
Beyond the cost savings achieved through fuel usage reductions and emissions, a four-day work week offers a surprising array of ancillary benefits. We can divide the benefits into two basic categories—economic benefits and personal/human benefits.
If we think-through the average experience of the typical worker, we can identify a surprising number of economic benefits arising from a four-day workweek. For most people, there is a significant amount of driving involved in getting to and from work each day. By reducing the number of days per week from 5 to 4, the typical worker would cut fully 20% of their commuting time. Instead of 5 round trips per week, they would only need to make four. This means 20% less fuel, 20% less wear and tear on their car, 20% less wear and tear on roads, 20% less traffic, fewer accidents, less need for emergency services and police to respond to accidents, lower insurance costs (because of fewer accidents), and fewer car repairs.
Some additional cost savings would come from a reduced need for dry cleaning—work clothes would need to be worn 20% less often, and less wear and tear on those clothes. Fewer lunches—most people eat out more when they are working, versus eating at home on days off.
Companies could reduce equipment needs and space requirements in some instances, because employees could be partnered, staggering their work weeks and therefore sharing space and equipment. For example, one employee could work Monday through Thursday, while the partner employee could work Tuesday through Friday. In companies with a large number of employee pairs, and by staggering the days each employee works, it would be possible to use resource sharing and therefore reduce the overall requirements for the company, thus reducing costs.
Studies have shown that employee satisfaction improves markedly with a four-day workweek. Productivity has been shown to improve as well. While working longer hours on those days that the employee goes to the office may cut down on family time and time to run errands, etc., having a three-day weekend provides more quality time for most families. Longer trips can be planned and there is generally more time to complete chores and other necessities, leaving more leisure time for the family.
Health has been shown to improve, with employees working a four-day workweek taking fewer sick days. Also, employees on the 4-10 schedule tend to exercise more and are thus less likely to get sick and to need medical help (lower health costs).
The 4-10 schedule also allows for more entrepreneurial endeavors. For those interested in starting their own business, or in pursuing a new career, having an extra day every week can be a huge benefit. Companies with a four-day workweek also report better recruiting success if their competitors do not offer the four-day work-week, again confirming the popularity of the 4-10 schedule with employees. Employee retention, for the same reasons, has been shown to be significantly higher in companies that offer the 4-10 schedule.
Not every business lends itself to the four-day workweek. Retail businesses typically need to be open every day, or at least five days per week. While those large enough to have multiple employees could still use the 4-10 schedule, it may be more challenging, especially if specific employees are responsible for driving a high percentage of total sales.
Those businesses that service ongoing client/customer relationships may need the account representatives that cover those relationships to be at the office at least five days each week, in case the client/customer calls or comes in for assistance. (If there are multiple account reps per relationship, the 4-10 schedule could still work.)
There may be legal or ethical challenges in some states. If there are laws on the books that require overtime to be paid to employees who work more than 8 hours in a single day, the costs may not be acceptable to the business owners. Many states would need to pass laws allowing a ten-hour work day before the 4-10 schedule could be implemented.
Productivity could suffer, particularly for employees that perform complex operations or who perform repetitive processes. Mistakes can be costly or even dangerous, so if employees are too mentally or physically taxes to avoid problems during the final two hours of a ten-hour work day, the 4-10 schedule may not be a good fit.
The positives seem to far outweigh the negatives, both from an economic and personal standpoint. The potential cost savings and improved quality of life for employees, to me, make converting to a 4-10 schedule for the majority of businesses a no-brainer. While the unfortunate reality is that it usually takes a major hardship to force people to change, such as a spike in energy costs, the bottom line is that a four-day workweek just makes a lot of sense, even with lower energy costs. Each business must evaluate the positives and negatives of a 4-10 schedule in the context of their unique needs and objectives, but for those who can benefit, the four-day workweek could be a major competitive advantage.