In response to high fuel costs, a number of states are offering their employees optional four-day work weeks consisting of four 10-hour workdays. While most initiatives are voluntary programs, at least one state – Utah – has made the four-day week mandatory for state workers so that government offices can be closed on Fridays. Workers who provide essential services will not be affected, but the measure will impact about 17,000 employees. Because about 1,000 buildings will be shut down on Fridays, the state expects the measure will save about $3 million.
Other states and municipalities have taken measures designed to offer employees some relief:
“Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) announced two weeks ago that her office was considering work-schedule alternatives to help commuters save fuel. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) has ordered each state agency to adopt a policy for telecommuting and alternate work schedules by Sept. 1.
High gasoline prices led Kentucky and South Carolina to offer compressed workweeks to a handful of its state employees this summer. A smattering of other states — Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Vermont among them — are considering expanding existing programs to more state agencies.”
Not all private businesses could afford to shut down for one day; for many, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. But some companies are enacting staggered four-day work plans, allowing some workers to have Friday off and others to have Monday off. With such arrangements, the extended work days may actually increase the service time available for customers.
Still other companies are looking to expand telecommuting or work from home arrangements. Bank of America just announced the launch of a voluntary telecommuting program for eligible employees. And one of our readers recently brought to our attention the concept of Third Place Thursdays – identifying one day of the work week (in this example, Thursdays) when employees can work from a “third place” – which is not necessarily the office or a home. The idea being that technology affords connectivity and access from almost any location.
Study finds four day week enhances morale, increases productivity
At least one recent study suggests that a compressed schedule may lead to an increase in job satisfaction, morale, and productivity. Professors at Brigham Young University studied the experience of the city of Spanish Fork, which adopted a four-day work week for city services in 2003 to reduce costs and to make public services more accessible to citizens by extending weekday work hours. The researchers surveyed city employees and residents to assess satisfaction, and found that 60 percent of employees reported higher productivity and 60 percent of residents reported improved citizen access.
Pros and cons
There are many advantages to a compressed week. In addition to the most obvious one of reducing gas expenditures by 20%, employees also see a 20% reduction in commuting time. And by commuting earlier and later on the other four days, employees may find that traffic is less congested during those off-peak hours. With a consolidated schedule, workers gain an entire day off, allowing more quality time for family and non-work pursuits. Some workers say that they use Fridays for errands and housework, and preserve their weekends for family time and leisure.
However, not everyone is in favor of a four-day week. Extended hours may be disruptive to child care arrangements. A compressed schedule may also be disruptive to employees who are engaged in a variety of other activities, such as taking night classes, juggling a part-time job, coaching a Little League team, or acting in community theater. It can be much more difficult to juggle daily life tasks on days with a longer work schedule. Safety proponents also point to the potential for increased risk, particularly for those with dangerous, stressful, or tedious jobs.
Pro or con, there is no doubt but that more public and private organizations are rapidly moving to alternate work arrangements, at least as a short-term measure to address soaring fuel prices. This will provide a good opportunity for researchers to study the positive and negative effects of alternative work schedules.