How To Get A 4-Day Work Week

It's not as hard as you might think.

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By Richard Eisenberg

My Labor Day blog post, "It's High Time for the 4-Day Work Week," seems to have struck a nerve.

A flock of tweets responding to the post said things like "way overdue" and "absolutely it's time" and "yes, please." Andrew Celentano (@taxonophilia) of the Melrose Asset Group business-consulting firm in Winchester, Mass., applauded the idea of a four-day work week, tweeting that "it would help address unemployment and people could spend more time participating in their communities."

Now I'd like to offer advice on how you can get a four-day work week -- either by talking to your current boss or by finding a firm or nonprofit that embraces the concept.

The tips come from workflex experts I interviewed and from my conversation with Jason Fried, the innovative founder and CEO of the Chicago software firm 37signals, which lets its employees who've been there at least a year work day-day, 32-hour weeks from May through October. ("In a colder climate, there's not much to do on a three-day weekend during the winter," Fried says.)

Getting a 4-Day Week Where You Work

Convincing your boss to let you work four, not five days, can be tricky -- especially if no one else there is doing it.

Managers typically don't like to make special arrangements for employees, because doing so adds to their... well, management duties. Some instinctively go into "well, if I do it for you, I have to do it for everyone" mode. Then there's the fear that if you'll be working fewer than five days a week, you won't get your job done (even if you'll be working four 10-hour days and putting in 40 hours a week).

That said, staffers in their 50s and 60s are frequently well-positioned to arrange four-day weeks, says Pat Katepoo, the Kaneohe, Hawaii-based head of Work Options, a firm that helps employees negotiate flexible schedules.

"They often have more tenure at their jobs than younger employees, so there's a built-in trust level with their managers," she says.

Katepoo's site has a helpful three-question quiz to gauge your chances of getting a four-day work week approved. (Incidentally, when Katepoo worked full-time at a nonprofit clinic, she negotiated a four-day work week that cut her hours by 20 percent but let her keep 95 percent of her salary and full benefits.)

The key to getting a four-day schedule, says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, is to make a strong business case for it.

Here's what to do to try to get one where you work:

Do a "climate check." That's the term I heard from Jessica DeGroot of the Third Path Institute, a Philadelphia-based group that aims to help employees lead "integrated" lives.

It means: Assess whether your employer and manager are comfortable with unconventional work ideas. You'll have a better chance if they are and a tougher time if they're not.

Be prepared to answer "How will your work get done?" That's the first question your boss will ask when you suggest switching to four days, says Katepoo.

Your proposal should lay out how you'll remain as productive as you are now, the ways your assignments will be completed on time, and why the employer won't suffer a whit.

Take baby steps. Instead of asking for a four-day week every week, request a less drastic approach.

"Say to your manager, 'Can I work four days one week a month so I can show you that I'll get as much done as I do now?'" says Fried.

Then, once you prove your productivity hasn't suffered, work out an arrangement to gradually take more four-day weeks.

Alternatively, propose a three-month pilot. That way, your boss will be less fearful about committing to a four-day work week indefinitely. "It's hard to turn the idea down when you say, 'Let's try it out,'" says Galinsky.

A three-month trial period will also give you both time to iron out any kinks, so the two of you will be enthusiastic about making this your regular schedule once the pilot ends.

Leave the "why" out of your pitch. Katepoo recommends not telling your manager the reason you want an extra day to yourself unless you're asked. Your day-off plans could come off as trivial ("I want three-day weekends") or your boss might feel that he or she would need to offer four-day work weeks to everyone with similar personal needs ("I need to take care of my dad").

"Just present the proposal on its own merits," she says. That way, your boss won't need to make a judgment call about whether your reason justifies a day off every week.

Get clarity about the "fifth day." Make sure your manager and you agree on how "off" you'll be on your idle weekday. "It's important to define boundaries about your accessibility," says Katepoo. If you don't, your colleagues and managers might feel free to contact you on the days when they're working but you (theoretically) aren't.

For more tips on negotiating a four-day work week, I recommend three resources you can access online. Each includes templates and smart advice.

They are: The Workoptions.com "Compressed Workweek Proposal Planning Package" ($29.95; you'd use it to work 40 hours in four days) and "Part-time Proposal Package" ($29.95; for a four-day schedule with fewer than 40 hours) and the free "Workflex Employee Toolkit" from the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Finding an Employer Who'll Let You Have a 4-Day Week

Maybe you'd like to get a job where you'll be able to work a four-day week. That's possible, but not terribly easy because few employers advertise positions with four-day schedules, and fewer still offer shortened work weeks to all their staffers.

"A four-day work week is a bit of a 'needle in haystack' search," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of Flexjobs.com in Boulder, Colo.

Instead, you'll need to look for job openings with "flexible schedules" or "alternative schedules." You may be able to find some on the websites of employers where you'd like to work.

A few websites specialize in these types of postings. Two national sites are Flexjobs.com ($14.95 a month) and Hourly.com. For professional jobs in the New York City metropolitan area, there's FlexibleResources.com. Washington, D.C., part-time professional jobs are listed at FlexforceProfessionals.com and Momentum Resources (which also has flexible, full-time positions and positions in the Richmond, Virg., area).

You might also want to knock on the virtual doors of businesses and nonprofits that show up on "great places to work" lists, since they may be open to the idea. Examples:

The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility. An annual list from the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management. Roughly 300 companies of various sizes just won the 2013 honor.

Best 100 Companies for Flexible Jobs. This list, from Flexjobs.com, has firms from its 26,000-company database, sliced by state or 50 career categories. The companies offer part-time, telecommuting, freelance and flexible working options.

Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For. This annual list, produced by the Great Places to Work Institute, surveys employees at corporations with more than 1,000 U.S. staffers.

Glassdoor's Best Places To Work. Glassdoor.com, a respected site filled with information about companies and salaries, produces this annual list of 50 large firms. It's based on feedback that employees have shared on Glassdoor in the past year.

Tips for Job Seekers

When applying for a job that hasn't said anything about a four-day work week, Sutton Fell says, don't mention your desire for that schedule in your cover letter. "The HR person may view that as something they don't want to deal with," she says.

Instead, wait to bring up the subject in the job interview, and even then, not very early in your conversation. "You want to prove your merit first," says Brooke Dixon, co-founder and chief executive of Hourly.com. "You can have the discussion about flexible time after that."

Conversely, if an employer's posting mentions a "flexible schedule" and a possible four-day work week, Sutton Fell advises you show your enthusiasm about it during the interview. "That extra passion can help," she says.

Ideally you'll land a job at a place that lets you work four days a week and have a boss like 37signals' Jason Fried, who'll be glad to accommodate you.

"I think having the four-day work week helps us attract the kind of person we want - not a workaholic, but someone who enjoys work and life outside of work," he says.

More from Next Avenue:
The Easy Way to Find Time for Everything You Want to Do
4 Tips to Become a Generation Flux Employee
Putting Time-Management Websites to the Test

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PURE JOBS

Thats the thing time, you will find your self 4 days working during the week then u will probably spend the next 3 days looking for another job, so if u working full time you dont have time to attend or search for other jobs.

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http://www.pure-jobs.com

November 08 2013 at 7:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alm

kind of a weird story as I already work a 10 hour 4 day shift. flexible hours are a good idea too instead of being locked into a 8 - 4, 9 - 5, or whatever. also be aware that if you are. also be aware that if you aren\'t an exempted employee doing work on your day off without pay is that something you want to do?

October 04 2013 at 2:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pwanless

It can be done. the HP near me used to offer some of their employees the option of four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. Not everybody took it, but those that did seemed good with it, though admittedly most who did were single people without family. At my last job, one of the company buyers wanted to spend more time at home with her young son. So she negotiated to work only 4 hours every Friday via telecommute, in exchange for a 10% pay cut. And one of the very first jobs I interviewed, their schedule was three 12-hour days M-W, and an 8-hour day every other Thursday.

October 03 2013 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rick

I used to work at an AOL Call Center when technical support was provided in the US. We had shifts that included a 4 day work week. You were there for 11 hours a day for 4 days (actually worked 10 but 1 off for lunch break). It sounds really good on paper but it made for long days. The first day off I would spend most of the day off being exhausted. Later we had 4 day alternating schedules where you would work two off one, work two off two. These were a actually better but you kind of missed the long weekends. When I eventually went to a eight hour day they actually seemed to just fly by. Unfortunately now I think a lot of people are going to end up with 4 day workweeks because of the trend of companies cutting hours to 29.5 per week.

October 03 2013 at 6:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RSK1177

Continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act might bring more four day work weeks. Only problem is that it will be 29 1/2 hours instead of 40 hours so those who are on hourly compensation, will see smaller paychecks. Many businesses cannot afford a 40 hour, four day work week. Why do you think that small businesses are reducing full-time worker hours to below 30 hours a week? Time will tell how many other business owners reduce full-time employees to part-time employees to get out from under the employer mandate.

October 02 2013 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Talitha Garlic

At my job, we have 4 day work weeks; it's called "part-time". And I get paid by the hour. You salaried people probably get paid sick days too. Nice work if you can get it. Now you expect to work 4 days but still get the same paycheck? Like I said-nice.

October 02 2013 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rural70

The 40 hour workweek has not been reduced since 1937, over 75 years ago. If the work week were reduced, the unemployment problem would be solved thru the new jobs it would create.

October 02 2013 at 4:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rural70's comment
normal.individual

Thats absolutely senseless dribble. How would more regulations create jobs? That would just make it worse.

October 02 2013 at 10:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lnm3921

Four day work weeks may sound great but they make for a very loooong day and sometimes you just want to go home after 8 hours. My company has that over the Summer whereby you get every other Friday off by working 9 hour days. But the catch is if you're workload requires you to come in during your day off, you have to come in and do the work despite having worked the 40 hours Monday through Friday. That's happened to me on several occasions. On top of that, if you're an hour short for whatever reason in doing having 40 hours, you must use your vacation time.

I've taking the 9 hour schedule simply because over the Summer my workload is so intense that I end up having to work those hours just to keep up with it all and meet deadlines. But I'm often so exhausted come my Friday off, I don't get that much out of it while other times it's just great to be away from the office for three days straight in a row.

October 01 2013 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

Once you get your 4 day work week you will probably spend the next 3 days looking for another job, so what's the difference?

September 29 2013 at 8:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Say NO to libs!

My last job was 4 days (I loved my Tuesdays off). I actually worked 2 hours less per week than I currently do, but my salary was double what I earn now for almost identical duties. I lost my former workplace to hurricane Sandy. After job hunting without success in a heavily damaged area for 6 months, I finally had to settle for working what was a full-time position only part time and I share my job with another equally hurting part-timer, even though we both had health insurance coverage (the owner said, sorry, you could lose your insurance and I can't afford to rebuild and pay the government penalties for you). Thanks for nothing 0bama.

September 29 2013 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Say NO to libs!'s comment
lnm3921

And how exactly is your dilemma caused by liberals? If your job is inadequate and the benefits suck, you can't find something better? Ask your conservative friends who supposedly create jobs for one. Evidently those tax cuts they got didn't trickle down to create new job opportunities for you.

Conservatives typically want to cut employee benefits and pass the burden to the employee. Fringe benefits typically cost employers alot of money so anything they can do to screw you over for more profits is likely what they'll do. They do it all in the name of stating competitive and still lay you off to boot.

October 01 2013 at 9:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lnm3921's comment
normal.individual

Protip- There is very little diffrence between Libtards and Conservaderps.

The reality is economically conservatives are better, or atleast less horrible. Trickle down the way the Reagan era put it into affect was a big joke. Trickle down when put into reality instead of used as a tool to **** over people would be great. Companies would have more money and so would people. Just reducing the tax burden would be great.

But What the poster was getting at was with all the lagalities and "workers rights" laws they just make it hard to get a job or to hire people because its increasingly risky and expensive. Corporations are no inherantly evil nor good. They simply exist like people in a grey area. Some companies can be called good or bad from a subjective viewpoint.. But when a company has more money they tend to invest that, in better leaders, employees, products or what have you, they just don't go Scrouge McDuck and bath in gold coins.

Face it, a business has to profit to keep in business. The minute profits dip cuts MUST be made to keep the ship aloft. And govt just helps to increasingly stir up the water and add weight to the ship instead of helping it.

Libertarians generally have a closer viewpoint to reality than most of either side, Leftist or Righ...est?. but some have some weird ideas that could actually work out given a chance. For most people Capitalism is just not intuative, we think that the guy in the nice care today is the enemy and instead of want to be like him we simply want him to be brought down to our level and for us to steal his car one way or another. Its a truly dangerous path that borders on Marxist rhetoric.

October 02 2013 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

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