Small Business Advice
Four-Day Work Week
To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.
— Wendell Berry
Following the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, the 40-hour work week, traditionally divided into five eight-hour days, became the standard. In the 70 years since the passage of this law, the work week has not changed. However, during the oil embargo of the 1970’s, many firms tried a four-day work week. In the 70s, the four-day work week did not last as these efforts did not sustain them once the fuel started to flow again; but, the four-day work week is once again getting a great deal of attention.
Leon County and many other governments, such as the state of Utah, are adopting or considering a four-day work week in answer to higher fuel prices. Kent State University offered a four-day work week to 98 of its employees, and 73 took them up on it. .
Now is a good time for each business to consider whether a weekly schedule of four, ten-hour days will work for them. The savings to your staff can be very high. For example, if 30 of your workers use a gallon of gas each way they commute, the yearly savings will be $12,000 in total or $400 per employee (assuming $4 per gallon). If an employee lives further out, the savings will be much higher.
Professor Hochwarter of FSU’s College of Business recently conducted a study of 800 full-time workers, mainly in the Southeast, who use personal transportation. His study concluded that 33% would quit their jobs if a closer one was available.
Switching to a four-day work week carries some significant benefits, and in my experience, employees really seem to embrace the change once they become acclimated to it. Staff will have 52 additional days off that they can use to do whatever they want. With additional time off during the week to see doctors and take care of personal appointments, absenteeism will decrease.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit, the four-day work week will bring about much needed fuel savings along with a reduction of vehicles on the road during peak traffic times. Firms that have a distribution system will also save a great deal as their vehicles will only have to return to home base four times a week rather than five.
In addition, many corporations have successfully implemented a four-day work week during the summer months. Doing so reduces electricity costs and allows parents to spend more time with their children.
While four, ten-hour work days seems appealing, there are some definite challenges. One of the biggest of these is the ability of your staff to get their kids to school or daycare before they have to be to work at 7 a.m. This is a very difficult transition for many young parents. In addition, in cases where schools and daycare centers offer extended hours, parents may incur additional expense as many centers charge extra if the child is picked up after 6 p.m.
Even parents of school-aged children may find four, ten-hour work days a struggle. They may not be comfortable leaving for work before their kids are on the bus.
For many businesses, only being open four days a week just is not feasible (e.g. restaurant, retail and call centers). Shifting to a four-day work week may not work at all if your customers demand that you are open five days a week or if you have products that must be made or delivered five days a week.
Staggered work weeks are a possible solution, but only in cases where employees all do the same job. Employees still work four, ten-hour days, but not all on the same days. For example, one employee may work Monday through Thursday, while another works Tuesday through Friday.
Another problem is that some employees will not be able to work a four-day schedule because of their personal lives. If you make the four-day work week mandatory, you might lose some of these valuable employees. Flexibility is key. If you make the switch optional, employees can choose which schedule works best for their lifestyle.
Governments can easily afford to switch to a four-day work week, as customers (taxpayers) do not have an alternative if government is closed. However for businesses, it is much more complicated. Redoing the entire operation to a four-day work week is not going to be cheap or without problems.
Switching to a four-day work week is a gigantic change in the way a business operates, and this decision has got to be made very carefully and slowly. Trying it out in a department or two rather than the whole company seems the prudent way to go.
Now go out and see if it is economically feasible for you to switch to a four-day work week.
You can do this!
Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 850-644-3372.