Why Workers -- And Employers -- Need A 4-Day Work Week

It's still a rare benefit, but it could solve lots of problems in corporate America.

NextAvenue Richard Eisenberg
By Richard Eisenberg

After Labor Day, I have a suggestion for America's employers that I think would make their employees happier and more productive: Offer them a four-day workweek.

Giving staffers one weekday off would be especially appealing to the biggest chunk of the American labor force – boomers.

Many of them could use the free day to take their parents to doctor's appointments or handle other eldercare duties, spend time with their grandkids, learn new skills and transition into retirement. Four-day workweeks can also let them cut their commutes.

4-Day Weeks' Pay and Benefits
If you put in 40 hours during your four days, you generally get full pay and benefits. You might even keep your benefits by working 30 to 40 hours, though you'll likely take a proportional pay cut.

No matter how you structure a four-day workweek, though, your job needs to get done – either by you or by you and someone working the fifth day.

Compressed workweeks – the delightful term human resources people use for putting in 40 hours in fewer than five days – are "a great way to provide employees the flexibility to meet the demands of work and life outside of work," says Lisa Horn, co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Workplace Flexibility Initiative and partnership with the Families and Work Institute.

"A four-day workweek allows you to continue to contribute on the job while gaining the time to pursue a long-neglected avocation, to help care for the grandchildren or to simply enjoy the other parts of life," says Cali Williams Yost, chief executive and founder of Flex+Strategy Groupin Madison, N.J.

Brooke Dixon, co-founder and chief executive of Hourly.com, a site that matches job-seekers with employers, says "well above half our users are looking for something other than a traditional workweek."

Jay Love, the former chief executive of Indianapolis search engine optimization consultant Slingshot SEO, which has a four-day workweek told Inc. that this employee perk "is an amazing draw in the age of recruiting the best talent to your team" and leads to soaring retention rates.

What Makes 4-Day Workweeks Rare?
So why are employers with four-day workweeks so hard to find in America, especially when there seems to be such a demand for this benefit? (Never mind that the average workweek is far shorter than 40 hours in many parts of the world: 29 hours in the Netherlands and 33 hours in Norway and Denmark, for example. And don't get me started on best-selling author Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Workweek notion.)

Today, harried five-day-a-week workers must routinely, and sometimes furtively, scoot out for doctor's appointments, errands and elder care duties for their parents – and they're doing so more often. Employers often don't like it when staffers head out for these reasons.

According to the Captivate Network's recent Homing From Work survey of 4,000 white collar workers, 45 percent leave work for doctor and dentist appointments and 52 percent go out to buy gifts, greeting cards and flowers. There's been a 31 percent increase in running errands since 2011, the study says.

Yet just 36 percent of employers permit at least some employees to have four-day workweeks, says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. Only 7 percent allow all or most staffers to do their jobs this way.

"I don't believe the majority of workplaces are supportive of four-day workweeks," says Jessica DeGroot, founder of the Third Path Institute, a Philadelphia-based group that aims to help employees lead "integrated" lives.

Why employers oppose 4-day workweeks
1. Strong organizational norms on who gets ahead at work. DeGroot says managers tend to promote staffers who "put work first," which typically means showing up every weekday.

2. Four-day workweeks add complexity to managers' jobs. "It's much easier to say to everyone, 'Come in at the same time every day and work long hours,'" she says.

"Often, it isn't that employers don't want to offer four-day workweeks, it's that they're not sure what's in it for them," Horn says.

Of course, some types of jobs or workplaces don't easily lend themselves to four-day workweeks. And some employers must pay hourly staffers overtime if they put in more than eight hours a day to get the fifth day off.

Where the Perk Exists
That said, progressive employers in a variety of fields let all or a portion of their staffers work four days a week. (Technology and accounting firms seem to be leading the way.)

Everyone gets a four-day week year-round at tech educator Treehouse Island, in Orlando, Fla., and at Slingshot SEO. Chicago software company 37signals has 32-hour, four-day shifts from May through October.

When Work Works, a book published by the Families and Work Institute and SHRM, describes dozens of employers offering four-day workweeks and other types of flexible schedules.

Some enterprising employees, including ones at senior levels, manage to pull off their own four-day schedules.

Ivan Axelrod, chief operating officer for Provident Financial Management in Santa Monica, Calif., four years ago began taking Mondays off to provide child care for his granddaughter Madelyn, allowing her mom to work those days.

"Finding ways to interact with children and grandchildren just has a reward you can't get out of work," Axelrod told ThirdPath. He now provides caregiving for a grandson each week, too.

Different Ways They're Offered
Four-day workweeks can be done in many ways, with varying hours. For example, the 5-4/9 arrangement lets staffers alternate between weeks of five nine-hour days and ones with four nine-hour days, so you get a day off every other week.

Pat Katepoo, the Kaneohe, Hawaii-based head of Work Options, a firm that helps employees negotiate flexible work arrangements, thinks boomers might especially like working a somewhat kinder version of that: eight-hour days with every other Friday off, even if doing so means taking a small pay cut.

"That's a good, creative option for this age group," Katepoo says."They can enjoy longer weekends 26 times a year and with Monday federal holidays, get some four-day weekends. That would let them shoot up to Cape Cod or drive three states over to see their grandkids."

The Trouble With One Method
But I'm not keen on what's known as the 4/10 model, especially for boomers, even though it's the most widely used compressed workweek schedule.

This one requires employees to punch 10-hour days on each of their four workdays. But you can wind up so pooped after continually clocking in for 10 hours that you'll lack the stamina to make your fifth day enjoyable and productive.

"I'm 52 and I don't have the energy I had when I was 22," DeGroot says. "With a 4/10 schedule, I'd need the other day to recover and that defeats the whole purpose of a four-day workweek."

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hi,I'm fouad residence in Italy.i'm need to work all work because here in Italy very cris and I'm really want to work all work.
this my number phone(00393926206694)
thank you.

October 15 2014 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what Emma replied I didnt know that any one can get paid $5892 in four weeks on the computer. read the article goo.gl/2po78n

September 17 2013 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The main reason we still have a 5 day work week is because it is the most productive model. US worker productivity, ie output per hour worked is the highest in the world. When you take out unionized work places our productivity soars.Because our work is highly integrated it is very difficult for most businesses to shift work flow between differing employees across various weeks

September 12 2013 at 9:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"...the 5-4/9 arrangement lets staffers alternate between weeks of five nine-hour days and ones with four nine-hour days, so you get a day off every other week".

We have this where I work and it is becoming more common, however we refer to it as a "9 - 80" schedule: Monday through Thursday working 9 hours and one Friday working 8 hours and the other Friday is an off day. In the 2 week pay period most employers use this adds up to 80 hours.

September 11 2013 at 10:34 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
great tragedy

union job they want 12 and 16 hour days , and don't care if its 7 days a week . ridiculous money , over 150k .
only problem is they ain't gonna do a blank thing but sit around , sleep etc .
companies are stupid letting them do that

September 11 2013 at 7:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I did 5/4/9 for a few years back in the 80's, It would have worked out well if I, like may employees, had a job where 40 hours a week wasn't a pipe dream. Ended up working on that day off too many times.

September 11 2013 at 7:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I did 4/10's and then it happened. The 'request' for me to come in on the 5th day.

Any 'legal' recourse ... anybody?

September 11 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

There's an even more extreme version of this: working three 12-hour shifts a week. This is becoming common in hospitals. Evidently the management benefits of doing things this way outweigh the problem with nurses becoming zombies for the last few hours on their shifts.

September 11 2013 at 6:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My god. That's not new. My husband work a 4 day job for 23 years. From mid 70's until the 90's.

September 11 2013 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I used to work a 9/day 80 hour schedule. Id have every other friday off. I was able to take my parents to the doctors on that day off. I never had to take a vacation day to do it. It was allowed as long as you had a back up to your job. I worked out very well for myself and my backup..........It worked for some jobs in the company, but not for other positions. Too bad we were bought by another major corp. who cared nothing for their employees. We lost the 9/80 schedule. We did get even..............called in sick every time I needed to take mom to the Doctors.

September 11 2013 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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