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Caution: Four-Day Workweek is AN Answer, Not THE Answer

Everyday there’s another story extolling the virtues of the four-day workweek, or four, ten-hour days, as the answer to our energy problems.  In fact, last week CNN devoted an entire segment to the Utah state government’s mandatory four-day workweek which began August 4th.  Before the four-day workweek gains more steam as the answer, I want to urge caution.  It is an answer, but not the answer.  The di

Everyday there’s another story extolling the virtues of the four-day workweek, or four, ten-hour days, as the answer to our energy problems.  In fact, last week CNN devoted an entire segment to the Utah state government’s mandatory four-day workweek which began August 4th.  Before the four-day workweek gains more steam as the answer, I want to urge caution.  It is an answer, but not the answer.  The distinction is subtle but very important.

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Thirteen years of experience developing flexibility strategies has shown me that most one-size-fits-all, mandatory flexibility programs eventually don’t work.  They are either modified dramatically or eliminated (see Ohio’s Flex-Gone-Wrong posting).   And, the hangover is an enduring organizational bias that “flexibility doesn’t work,” when in fact it does if developed and implemented the right way.

What will work? The four-day workweek needs to be one of many types of flexibility within a broader, well-developed, process-based strategy   The business case can include, but must goes beyond, “saving energy.”  And the implementation needs to involve a process that tailors flexibility in how, when or where work is done to the realities of an individual’s life and job.

Perhaps in Utah, one of the work realities a person might have to consider in their flex plan would be energy savings, but it can’t be the only reality. (See Barbara Rose’s article in the Chicago Tribune where I am one of a number of work life flex experts to comment on the subject).

The typical problems with one-size-fits-all, four-day workweeks are already starting to crop up (see USA Today and CNN), specifically:

1) Some work probably does have to happen on Fridays:  Success assumes that it will be okay for the government not to be open for business on Friday and that people will adapt.  There’s a strong possibility that the government will find certain aspects of the business do need to happen on Friday, and they’ll have to adapt the four-week program accordingly.  In fact, they’ve already exempted parts of the Utah government from the four-day workweek for this reason.

2)  It’s very hard for people with dependent care responsibilities:  People who have children of all ages, or care for an elder struggle with four-day workweeks.  For many parents, child care hours don’t correspond to the 10-hour day.  That includes child care centers as well as before and after-school programs.  Plus, often if there are extended hours, you usually have to pay a premium as well as continue to pay for your “spot” on Friday.

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The four-day workweek doesn’t give parents more time with their kids, because while they may have Fridays off, parents are dropping kids off earlier at child care or at school four days a week.  And they are picking them up later.  Plus, for parents of school-age children, they are missing sports events, and often dinner with their families.

The governor of Utah is correct that young people love four-day workweeks.  So let young people without families use it, and allow those with families to consider other types of flexibility.

3) It’s very hard for people who have a long commute particularly those who use public transportation.  In Utah, they are already finding this is an issue.

4) The hours don’t always match when people work best which impacts productivity.  Some people aren’t morning people and some people aren’t evening people. And that one-hour in the beginning of day or at the end is very hard for them.

5) Finally, it’s probably not going to have that much of an impact on Utah’s overall “carbon footprint.”  It may reduce the amount of money the Utah state government pays for energy, but employees will be driving and using energy in their houses on Fridays which will probably offset any overall savings.

Again, four-day workweeks are an effective form of flexibility as long as it’s one of many potential options offered within a broader process-based strategy.  Check out how I think we can use flexibility to save energy, by going to my posting “$10 Gas!  The National Work+Life Flex Strategy.”

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What do you think about the four-day workweek?  Do you agree with my caution?