The Four Day Work Week

Are we doing our part to battle the energy-crunch, or just lounging around on 3-day weekends???

In 1938 the U.S. Government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), standardizing the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week.  At the time it was a major improvement for the average American worker, since prior to the FLSA, many companies forced their employees to work 60+ hour weeks with no regulations whatsoever requiring employers to exercise fair and humane treatment on their workers.  “Sweat shops” were the norm, not the exception.  Since that fateful day seventy years ago, every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday workers all over the country wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work from 9 to 5.

Over the years situations have come along that have made people question the ‘absolute’ effectiveness of this 5 day 40 hour week.  My first personal memory of such a situation was during the gasoline shortage in the early ’70s.  It was a crazy time as cars lined up at gas stations only being able to fuel up on odd or even days.  People were literally fighting in the streets over gasoline.  During that crisis, some forward-thinking companies realized that they could work 4-10 hour days instead of 5-8 hour days, still get their required production quotas complete, and save 20% in fuel usage for the employees with the shortened weekly commutes.

Obviously the 4-day work week didn’t become the standard overnight but it has been around for decades now in one form or another with many manufacturing companies utilizing it for their blue-collar workforces.  It is often used as a perk in recruiting, and most employees find it to be a great benefit to them.  As flex-shifts became popular in the 80’s & 90’s more white-collar companies started instituting 4-day weeks too.  Again it was considered a benefit and people were very much in favor of the resulting 3 day weekends.  Employers also became fans of the 4 day week as they took note of improved morale, increases in productivity and decreases in absenteeism.  So did these companies find the ‘ultimate schedule’ for the employees and their shareholders?  Some say yes, some say no but I think all agree on one point.  There are some very tangible energy savings to be considered when setting a company’s work week, both for the employees and the company.  When skyrocketing energy costs are bold headlines in every newspaper across the country every day, any and all ideas must be seriously considered.  We find ourselves at that crossroad today.

Here at Setpoint, we have weighed the options and the potential benefits and drawbacks carefully and concluded that a 4 day week seems to be a good fit for us.  With all factors considered, we have undertaken a 90 day experiment to try and implement a more efficient schedule that balances the needs of our employees, our customers, and our shareholders.  We have adjusted our work week to a “four 10s” mode, or Monday through Thursday 6:00 am to 4:30 pm.  This change comes in response to several key points that have become more relevant by the day:

  1. Public gas price comments have quickly transitioned from things like “Oh my goodness, these gas prices are steep!” to “Without a doubt, we should immediately invade and occupy all foreign oil-producing countries!”
  2. The Great State of Utah, led by our friend and Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., has moved all state employees to a similar work week, with practically all state offices closed on Fridays.
  3. For some time now, Setpoint employees have requested a four-day work week.  After weighing every possible angle, we feel that we can be just as effective (if not more) as we were in a Monday through Friday, 8 hours per day shift.  At the same time, everyone gets an extra day to relax, pursue their hobbies, spend time with their families, etc. and of course, there are those nifty energy savings to consider.

The primary payoff for this schedule for employees is obvious, with an extra day available every week for whatever they may choose to use it for, and an immediate 20% reduction in commuting costs.  But there are also a number of less-obvious benefits that should be noted: less wear and tear on vehicles, less time spent inhaling polluted air while stuck in traffic and less commute-related stress for everyone.

The payoff for the environment is also easy to see, as theoretically we are facilitating a 20% reduction in the notorious greenhouse gasses that our cars emit by reducing the commuting days for every employee (in reality, it will probably be less than a 20% reduction since many people will still be driving SOMEWHERE on Fridays, even if they don’t have to drive to Setpoint anymore).  There is also the added energy savings of minimizing electrical and natural gas usage in the Setpoint facility on Fridays.

And finally, the payoff that the 4-day work week can bring to Setpoint should be noted.  For years government and academic studies have shown that employees are more efficient in a 4 day work week.  The reasons cited are 20% less ‘start-up time’ required every week (i.e. that protracted “where was I when I left off yesterday?” timeframe that we all go through every morning as our caffeine kicks in), improved employee morale, and a decrease in employee absenteeism (due to an extra day every week to take care of personal business).  This schedule also allows a more reasonable ‘flex’ when the workload is heavy and overtime is required to complete commitments.  Employees can work overtime on Fridays as required to stay on schedule and still have a two-day weekend to “recharge the batteries”.

With the changes that are taking place in the world today we all need to be flexible and open-minded to try and find more efficient ways to conduct business.  This means we need to occasionally look past some of the long-standing traditions that may no longer be as applicable as they once were.  With that sort of forward-thinking in mind, we here at Setpoint embark on our 90-day experiment with high hopes for a successful outcome.  The measure of success will be determined by the technical and financial effectiveness and efficiency in our efforts, as well as our employee and customer satisfaction levels.  If we are as successful as we expect to be, it’s probable that we will implement the 4-day work week as our standard.  Check back with us in 90 days to see how this grand experiment works out!

6 Reviews

    I enjoyed reading your article on the 4-day work week. Please let me know how it is going. We are trying to propose a trial period as well, but we haven’t got past the proposal part yet.

    Let me know how SetPoint is making out.

    Hi Pat. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your kind comments. Our 4-day week has been a great success so far, with the hoped-for improvements in productivity and morale blatantly evident to everyone, and we have been very financially successful as well. The only issue that we have had so far has been to sometimes require some volunteers to come in on the occasional Friday to take care of specific customer needs and requests. While we may be on a 4-day work week now, very few of our customers are doing the same, yet. Consequently, we have to work hard to make sure that Setpoint’s availability on Fridays is not an issue for them. The volunteers have been awesome, and we’ve covered some serious customer needs on Fridays over the last few months. But at the same time, we have also seen many of our customers starting to adapt to our new schedule, and whenever possible they will defer their needs until Monday unless of course the issue is critical. So in a nutshell, our experiment has been a big success so far, and we anticipate making it the standard at the end of our 90 day period. On a personal note, I may need to get a part-time job so I have enough money to fund all those three-day weekend adventures that I can do now, but that’s a burden I’m willing to carry! 🙂

    Thanks again for stopping by and good luck on your own efforts toward a 4-day week.

    Roger

    I have nothing to do with the company here, but I found the blog/discussion board in a google search for pros and cons on a 4 day work week. My husband has been working at a new company for about 2 months now. Most people there work a 4 day week, but my husband does not, opting for the traditional 5 day week. Today, they put out a memo saying they may force everyone to go to 4 days and I am extremely concerned about it. Most information I find is in favor of the 4 day week. But I am afraid it overlooks some very serious problems. My main opposition to it is the effect it would have on exercise habits and sleep schedules. I’ll admit, it is already like pulling teeth to get my husband to exercise just 20 minutes or so. But, we recently joined Jenny Craig and he was really making an effort. We’ve both lost about 15 pounds in the past two months. If he works from early in the morning to later in the evening, after his 30-45 minute commute home, he might not have the energy to exercise on a regular and healthy basis. Plus, he’ll need to go to bed earlier, cutting down the time available to exercise as well. He said he’d try to exercise after dinner, which we would now have immediately when he gets home, but I just don’t see it happening. He is in his 50’s, so he really needs to focus on his health. Plus, we are trying to have children and I am concerned about health care arrangements once I return to work myself. While I think it is great to allow employees flexible schedules like 4 day weeks, I do not like being forced into it. It simply doesn’t work the same for everyone and I don’t think having someone missing around the office for a couple hours a day because they only put in 8 hours is such a big deal. You can always wait and ask them whatever questions you might have the next day. The fifth day wouldn’t be wasted either just because more people work the 4 days. It would allow my husband to catch up on things he couldn’t accomplish when everyone was there, like research and writing projects. Has anyone here encountered any problems like these?

    Hi Heather,
    We did a gradual approach into the 4 day work week where the engineers did it for a while before everyone else did so I had some time to get used to the idea. I was worried about it at first, thinking geez somedays I don’t have enough to keep me busy for 8 hours what am I going to do on those days when I’m working 10? I too work out 3 days a week and was worried about that and about if I was ever going to be able to make it through the day.

    After working on this for six months now, here is what I found personally. It took about 3 weeks for my body to become acclimated to working the longer days. I did go to bed earlier for those 3 weeks, but after that my body was able to handle that this was the new norm. I sleep in on Friday & Saturday’s a little but I have found that on a regular basis I no longer need to go to bed any earlier than I did when I worked 5 days a week. As far as working when I was at work, I have found that I get more done with a 4 day week. For the first couple of months it took some adjusting in my thinking. I have these 10 things that need to get done this week, if I get at least 2 a day I’ll be fine. When it came to Thursday and I had to do 4 big tasks because I spaced out that I didn’t work Fridays anymore. Now it seems like I am able to better manage my time and I have been able to fit everything that I did in 5 days in 4, and I haven’t found many times where I had nothing to do. Thanksgiving and Christmas time were my exceptions.

    I have been working out for almost 4 years now, 3 days a week after work. I workout with my sister so that keeps me motivated to make sure I am ready when she gets off work. The most important thing for us is to be accountable to each other, if I know she’s going to be there waiting for me I am less likely to say maybe I’ll work out tomorrow. I don’t know if that would work for you and your husband to be accountable to each other? Tell him you will meet him at the gym right after he gets off and then go home and eat dinner afterwards. You might have more consistency if he goes straight from the gym instead of coming home after work where he’ll be tempted to do “other” things once he gets there.

    I have found that I LOVE having my Fridays off. I go out and spend time with my parents, some of my friends are stay at home mom’s so instead of going out in the evenings after work I find I can spend time with them on Fridays so their evenings are free to be with their families. I have even taken short vacations on my weekend, in October I went to San Diego, flew out Thursday night and back Sunday night and I didn’t have to use any vacation days.

    Everyone’s experience is different, I hope that if your husband does move to the 4 day work week that you will be able to find the benefits of it like I have.
    Kara

    Heather, I really identify with you. I am also in my early 50’s, I am working a 4 day work week, I exercise with my wife for one hour every morning, and I don’t like being forced to do things. I do however love the 4 day work week. In my case, the company is not open for normal business on Friday, so even though I have to work the 4 day week, I was only indirectly forced (and I didn’t object). There are lots of other things to consider though. There is less traffic on the roads, less pollution, less gas, less miles on your car. In addition, as an industrial automation programmer, I find that once I am “on a roll”, I can get really deep into my work and accomplish more. It’s easy to see that there is a certain amount of time “wasted” getting into the office, logging in, checking phone and e-mail messages etc. These daily chores are reduced to 4 as well. I really feel that it is a more efficient way to work. On the other hand, working much more than 10 hours in a day tends to be waring and for many people becomes counter productive. I have seen some people work 3 – 13 hours days in a week (39 hours), but I think they were less productive.

    I know that you don’t like being forced into things and I sympathise with that. On a personal level, try to be positive about it and appreciate the benefits. I absolutely love spending a whole day with my wife every friday. It is like a mini vacation every week.

    I wish you the best of luck.
    Scott

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