Employers mull four-day work week

A Tampa Bay, Fla., Citgo station displays gas prices on May 23.

To help workers cut down on fuel costs, employers across the country are offering the option of a four-day work week.

There's a catch, of course. Workers have to put in longer hours each day to make up for the extra day off, but the prospect of skipping rush hour, plus a 20 percent savings on commuting costs, plus the prospect of a weekly three-day weekend has many employees jumping at the chance to compress their work week.

Local governments seem to be leading the charge. USA Today offers a roundup of municipalities that have recently begun offering shorter work weeks. They include the cities of Birmingham, Ala., and Avondale, Ariz., as well as road crews in Walworth County, Wisc. Similar proposals are in the works in El Paso, Texas, and Oakland County, Mich. And on Friday, the Philippine government announced that it is considering a four-day work week for government employees.

Private businesses, too, are tweaking their hours in response to gas prices. USA Today's story cites a May study by the Society for Human Resource Management that 26 percent of businesses offer a flexible schedule to ease pain at the pump. The story also notes that the staffing firm Robert Half International says that higher gas prices have affected the commutes of 44 percent of US workers, prompting them to carpool more, drive a more fuel-efficient car, work from home, or start looking for another job.

"I didn't want to lose people," said David Vaughan, executive director of Neighborhood Development Services in northeastern Ohio, in an interview with Rueters. "In rural areas like we are, gas price increases are more challenging because we don't have the mass transit alternative – we can't jump on a bus or take a train."

Reuters reports that Vaughan hopes to close the office for one day a week, reducing his energy bill.

The Wall Street Journal notes that flexible hours are not just good for retaining existing workers, but also for recruiting new ones. They cite a survey by the executive placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas that found that 34 percent of employers said job candidates had turned them down because of the commute. That survey also found that 57 percent of companies have a programs to help defray high fuel prices, such as allowing workers to telecommute or offering incentives for fuel-efficient cars.

But will the four-day work week catch on? Will Thursday become the new Friday? Can people be just as productive in a 10-hour shift as in an eight-hour one? And what of the growing number of Americans who are putting in 70 hours a week. How would they compress their week?

And, most important: What will happen to dinnertime?

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