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4-day Work Weeks – The Benefits, The Problems

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By Cindy Krischer Goodman

RISMEDIA, August 15, 2008-(MCT)-If offered, would you want to work a four-day week? What if it means four long days?

More businesses, governments and school boards are proposing that option for employees in a trend sparked by sky-high fuel costs, traffic congestion, and budget concerns.

The movement, which has many employees working four 10-hour days, has picked up momentum this summer. Benefits manager Peter Ronza says a variety of employers are studying whether it would work for them.

“It really depends on staffing,” Ronza says. “Some workplaces can pull it off.”

When Cocoa, Fla.-based Brevard Community College President James Drake instituted a four-day summer workweek last year, his goal was to save the college money. But he discovered the work arrangement had a far more personal impact. The day off contributed to fewer employee sick hours and a reduction in staff turnover.

Martha Oakes, in payroll for Miami-Dade County, Fla., enjoys working a four-day week and saves on gas. Having Wednesdays off, she says, breaks up her week and gives her a day for personal appointments and errands. “I never have that tired three-days-to-go feeling.”

But Oakes feels the schedule would be nearly impossible for a working mother with young kids. “There is no daycare out there open early enough and late enough to allow someone to drop their child off and work 10 hours.” And, “it’s a long day away from your kids.”

Miami-Dade County offers four-day weeks to salaried and hourly employees in 25 departments. About 2,100 employees have shifted to the schedule. Angela Maher, Miami-Dade’s director of human resources, says it has helped reduce overtime.

Now, Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa wants a pilot program where all staff in certain buildings would work four longer days as a way of saving money by physically closing one day a week. Faced with a budget shortfall, Sosa views it as an alternative to layoffs and a way to extend customer service hours on the four days. “I think we should try it and get feedback,” she says.

Florida International University recently announced that its employees will work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday for the summer to save money on electricity. The university expects to save at least $250,000.

Larger public employers such as the Miami-Dade School Board are participating in the trend, too.

This summer, 16 schools in Miami-Dade are on a four-day work week. At the end of the summer, the school board will consider continuing the schedule for fall. My sister, a high school teacher in Miami-Dade, favors having a day off during the week. But she worries how the longer school days would affect extracurricular activities (athletics) and students’ after-school work schedules.

Utah is leading the way, becoming the first state in the nation to have a mandatory four-day workweek. Rex Facer at Brigham Young University is studying the four-day workweek concept and estimates about one-sixth of U.S. cities will eventually shutter their offices on Fridays.

It’s one thing for government employees to log longer hours for four days, but would it work for businesses?

One CEO I spoke with says he gets 10-hour days five days a week out of his salaried employees, “Why would I want to give up an extra day of productivity?” he asks.

Others wonder how customers would respond. “I’m not sure how clients would take it if we tell them we only work four-day week because they have certain deadlines,” said Denise Diaz, a partner in the Coral Gables, Fla., accounting firm of Ocariz, Gitlin & Zomerfeld.

And then, there’s the issue of whether employees can be as productive for 10 hours a day. Would they get tired and coast the last two hours? Would a 10-hour day amount to a 12-hour day when you include unpaid lunch and commute times?

Workplace expert John Challenger says the issue of productivity is a valid concern. But he thinks businesses can adapt to four-day schedules if they state weekly goals for productivity upfront.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is a workplace columnist for The Miami Herald and weekly television guest on Miami’s CBS station.

© 2008, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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