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The Four Day Work Week

Updated on June 28, 2011

Three day weekend, every week? In 2008, Utah issued a new plan that gave many of its state employees a four day work week. Within a year the state reported huge success in efficiency and energy cost reductions. So how come three years later, with high gas prices and cutting costs as major concerns of many employees and employers alike, many companies still haven’t initiated such a plan.

The 40 hour 5 day work week has been the standard since around 1938. With a historyas long as this it must be just the way it’s supposed to be right? In the last 70 years, think about all that has changed. Commuting to work now involves cars, gas prices, gas emissions, rush hour. This five days a week also worked when the man worked and the woman stayed home to cook, clean, and take care of the kids. Nowadays, many mothers have to get a job to make ends meet and they have way more responsibilities than before. In the ‘30s the standard was reduced to 5 days a week, maybe now it’s time to lower it again.

In the Utah, the experiment consisted of 17,000 employees working Monday to Thursday for four 10 hour days. With this, they still work 40 hours a week, but the advantages to this day off are countless. By taking Fridays off, in one year Utah saw a reduction of 13% in energy consumed by lights, heat, air conditioning, gas, other electrical, etc. They also saw a savings of $6 million in just gas costs by commuting in cars one less day. Imagine if 17,000 employees save $6 million in gas how much the near 130 million workers country wide could save annually, especially when the national average for the price of gas is about $0.20 higher than it was in Utah in 2008. They also estimated the cuts in energy reduced annual emissions but 12,000 or more metric tons a year. That’s like taking 2,300 cars completely off the road a year.

One concern of this new schedule is how the employees would react to working longerdays. Some experts foresaw concerns with health, stress, and personal schedules. After one year, Utah actually saw a decline in health complaints, fewer sick days, and employees reported less stress. With 10 hour days and less “free time” daily, wouldn’t employees be more inclined to eat fast food and work out less? On the contrary, reports showed only 20% of employees ate more fast food and 30% worked out less. In addition, 30% say they actually worked out MORE in their week, having another completely free day to hit the gym. Although any increase in fast food is not good, only 20% is not too bad and would most likely decline as workers continued to adjust to the new routine. In regards to exercise, many working Americans find it difficult to work out after work anyway, since they are tired and just want to relax with their family. With Friday off, they can extend the “weekend workout” to one more day while the kids are at school.

One of the biggest advantages of this day off is the commuting. With gas prices over $4.00 in many places, the working American is cutting more and more into that paycheck just to get to work. By adding two hours to each day and reducing the number of workdays, this would cut commuting days for the employees by 20%. With less driving, workers spend less on gas and less on car tune-ups while the government can spend less on road work. Less time sitting in rush hour traffic is also beneficial beyond money. The California EPA estimates that 50% of one’s daily exposure to the ultra-fine particles that cause respiratory illness and cardiovascular diseases can occur during his or her commute. By sitting in slow moving traffic, the emissions from other cars as well as your own are literally suffocating you while you sit there. Without having to do this commute five days a week, these respiratory intakes can be cut greatly. On top of the one less day, if you work a longer day than others, getting out at a different time can mean a quicker commute and even less emissions breathed in, as well as getting home faster.

Henry Ford is credited with being a pioneer in the shorter work week, saying “The harder we crowd business for time, the more efficient it becomes. It is high time to rid ourselvesof the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” In this new century, there are even more reason for leisure time. Today’s employees want more time for relaxing, spending time with family, working out, dating, watching football, and doctor’s appointments. With all this info, it seems like another cut is due. Many studies have showed cutting the week to four 8 hour days would actually increase productivity, but many of us would be happy with just that extra day off and four 8 hour days. In Utah, 82% of the test employees wanted to keep the schedule, loving the benefits of more time, less travel, and less emissions.

For many businesses, this new schedule seems like a no-brainer. Obviously for businesses that provide continuous service to customers, losing a day may lose business, although extended hours other days may allow for 9-to-5ers to get to your business and improve efficiency. For the Utah DMV, the extended hours shortened lines with improved hours. Imagine that, the DMV SHORTENING it lines, what a miracle. These service businesses may also benefit from staggering when employees work their 4 days, allowing the company to stay open for five LONGER days than before but still having all the benefits the employees will have with shorter weeks. Although this plan lessens the reductions in emissions since the business has to stay open for all five days, just the less driving by employees still cuts exactly half the estimated emissions (6,000 metric tons a year of the 12,000 cut by Utah). Maybe this plan doesn’t appeal to everyone’s senses, but it definitely has many people saying “Thank God it’s Thursday”.


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