Does the Four Day Work Week Work?

by Lori L. Wadsworth and Rex L. Facer II
Romney Institute of Public Management
Brigham Young University

The use of a 4 day 10 hour workweek has received increased interest of late. With gasoline costs soaring last summer, many organizations looked for strategies to cope with the price spike. Some argued that if employees work one less day, they can decrease their travel cost by 20%, resulting in an immediate cost savings for them, and potential benefits for organizations and society. While this benefit might be difficult to accurately measure, there are other benefits that should be considered.

Greater demands have been placed on workers in today’s workplace. The number of work hours has increased in recent years, along with work responsibilities for the average employee. In addition, there has been an increase of dual-income and single-parent families. For this reason, workers have greater responsibilities for family schedules and activities. Even those who are part of a traditional family seek more opportunities to spend time with family and friends outside of the workplace. These work-family issues create significant challenges for today’s employers.

In response to this greater emphasis on work-life balance by employees, many organizations are looking for ways to assist their employees in attaining balance between work and family. One common strategy is alternative work arrangements, which include flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, and compressed work schedules.

For the last several years we have been conducting research on work schedules and their implications. In an article published last year in the Review of Public Personnel Administration, we examined the effects of implementing a compressed workweek (four 10-hour days) for employees in city government. We looked particularly at the employees experience with the 4-10 workweek, along with their job satisfaction and levels of work-family conflict.

The employees working the 4/10 workweek reported lower levels of work-family conflict and higher levels of job satisfaction than their counterparts who are working a traditional schedule. The employees also reported that the alternative schedule increased their productivity and their ability to serve the citizens.

As a follow-up to this study, we recently surveyed 150 human resource directors in cities across the United States to assess their experience with alternative work schedules. Our analysis suggests that over half of cities offer some form of alternative work schedules, with compressed workweeks and flex-time as the most commonly offered alternatives. Compressed work schedules are the most prominent alternative work schedule offered, specifically the 4/10 schedule.

The HR directors reported that the most common organizational benefits from alternative work schedules were improved employee morale (64 percent of cities), improved work-family balance (54 percent), improved customer service (46 percent), and increased employee productivity (41 percent). In addition, they reported cost savings for the city due to decreased overtime and overhead costs. Several HR directors suggest that offering alternative work schedules decreases absenteeism and improves their ability to attract talented employees.

HR directors also reported organizational drawbacks to alternative work schedules. The most frequently reported drawback was difficulty with scheduling, particularly with meetings between those who work a 4/10 and those who are on the traditional schedule (39 percent). The next most frequently cited drawback was decreased face-time for the employee (24 percent). The other drawbacks reported (decreased morale and productivity and increased absenteeism, customer service complaints, and cost) were each reported by fewer than 10 percent of the HR directors. None of these drawbacks suggest a death knell for the 4/10 workweek. It simply means that managing schedules and career opportunities for employees will be important factors to address as organizations offer and manage alternative work schedules.

Organizations, even very large ones, can successfully change work schedules. For example, in August 2008, the State of Utah changed to a 4/10 schedule. Now 11 months into the schedule, state employees have expressed very strong support for the new schedule. Survey data indicated that 82% of the employees prefer to remain on the 4/10 workweek. Employees have had challenges, but it appears that through careful management many of those challenges can be successfully addressed.

While the consequences of fiscal stress might be an important impetus for looking at alternative work schedules such as the 4/10 schedule, organizations must think carefully about their implementation strategy to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks. This will require careful planning to understand the implications of these and other organizational arrangements.

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