Firms squeeze the workweek
The rise of four-day weeks promises energy savings and more productivity, but only in some cases.
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Fatigue can also be an issue. "Employees need to consider their own stamina," says Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute in New York. "Working 4/10 can be very tiring."Skip to next paragraph
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Matuson offers another suggestion for those who work long days Monday through Thursday: "I wouldn't schedule important strategic meetings for Thursday at 2. It's better earlier in the week when people have more energy."
Some employers find that productivity suffers. "It's difficult to be productive for 10 hours a day," Ms. Kenny says. "The physical toll of working a 10-hour day has really not been looked at. And I don't know if there are energy savings if a company keeps air conditioning on many more hours a day and lowers it on Friday."
Because most firms must stay open five days a week, not everyone can work four days. "Some people have to be turned down," Mr. Shaughnessy says. "You have to be sure you have clear standards to allow people to do this – stating that they have to be with the company for a year, for example, or that it only applies to certain people in certain levels or departments."
Any changes in work schedules and manufacturing schedules also need to be evaluated from a legal standpoint, he adds. Although the federal Fair Labor Standards Act only requires overtime after 40 hours of work in seven days, some states require overtime pay after eight hours in a day. Different states also have different laws about break times, lunch, and what is required for 10-hour days, Matuson says.
Employees must also weigh the impact of the longer day on their families. "Flexibility needs to work for the employer and employee, but it also needs to work for the family," says Ms. Galinsky.
Compressed schedules raise questions: If one parent works late, what happens to the family dinner? And what about child care? "At a lot of daycare centers, you have to pay even if you're not using Friday," Kirk says.
Compressed weeks rooted in the '70s
This is not the first time businesses have altered schedules to deal with a gas crisis. When Chris Stiehl worked as an industrial engineer for a large pharmaceutical company during the energy crunch in the 1970s, the firm adopted a four-day, 10-hour week.
"For people with lots of hobbies and activities, it was great," says Mr. Stiehl of San Diego, now a consultant on workplace and customer issues. "But some workers were bored and spent the extra time drinking at a bar or in front of the TV. We also experienced an uptick in accidents late in the day on the 10-hour days. People were tired and less careful. Worker's compensation claims increased." When the gas crisis waned, the company returned to a five-day week.
Today, Galinsky says, "Most companies starting this are saying this is a pilot. They need to figure out how to measure if it's successful." Some firms do this by verifying that workers meet deadlines and complete projects on time.
Organizations must proceed with caution, Kenny says, perhaps testing the plan and being clear with staff that it does not suit all jobs. "You start with the work that needs to be done," she says. "What is going to make the company successful? You cannot start with the employee's desire. The four-day week is not the silver bullet for the energy crisis."