The 4-day workweek is being tried by more companies. It might not work for everyone.

LaDonna Speiser, 59, takes her grand-nephew along to the pool on a recent Friday and assists her mother-in law with her errands.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
06 July 2022 Wednesday 19:19
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The 4-day workweek is being tried by more companies. It might not work for everyone.

LaDonna Speiser, 59, takes her grand-nephew along to the pool on a recent Friday and assists her mother-in law with her errands. She sees the eye doctor and schedules an appointment with a physical therapy. She also spends time on the patio reading. Her employer, Healthwise, allows her to do this as she has a four-day workweek.

Employers such as Healthwise, which are white-collar workers, are looking for new ways to increase their appeal to employees. One of these is the "four-day workweek" aEUR," which examines whether workers need to work 40 hours per week. NPR's Morning Edition explored how realistic this is as part of its Work Life series.

The four-day workweek was an experiment that Speiser's company began to try last year. The company is based in Boise, Idaho and produces materials to help hospitals and their health plans. The nonprofit 4 Day Week Global conducted a pilot study to see if the company could produce materials for hospitals and health plans.

Healthwise found that reducing work hours to just four days was a good business decision.

CEO Adam Husney says that revenues increased more than expected this year. "We have delivered products on time, or ahead of what we had expected." The things that we can measure are all positive, I'd say.

These positives also tie to aEUR's objective, which was to find out how a 4-day workweek can help employees deal with burnout.

Juliet Schor, a sociology and economist professor at Boston College, says that many people are spending too much time in the office. Schor is also the author of The Overworked American and heads research at 4 Day Week Global.

She says that if work was organized better, employees could accomplish more in less time and return to their homes with a better quality of life.

The pilot program asks companies to try a four-day workweek for six consecutive months. Participation does not require a reduction in pay, but a substantial reduction in hours. Participants have typically worked for four days, 32 hours each. Friday is the most popular day off. This year, 22 U.S. companies and 70 U.K. companies have signed up for the trial. Participating companies are also from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.

The experiment may not be for everyone, but it is certainly worth a try.

Schor says, "If you look at companies that are pioneering a four-day week," tech is very much in the forefront. The trial highlights Kickstarter with its 100 employees. She notes that white collar work is the dominant type of work right now.

It may prove easier to do a four-day work week in an office environment. There is more flexibility in scheduling than in other industries. NPR called a northeast manufacturing plant that produces steel products. A floor manager answered the phone and said he couldn't find a supervisor to talk on the record. He said that the plant was so overwhelmed by backlog orders and supply chain shortages, that it was impossible for them to make a 4-day work week.

Schor is interested in reducing the hours of white-collar workers. Schor mentioned a Swedish experiment in which nurses were allowed to work six hours a day instead of the usual eight. This was done to reduce stress.

Schor says, "These experiments revealed that nurses who worked six hours a day were happier than we would have expected." "But care facilities had to hire people for these extra hours. They found that although there was an increase in cost, the additional wages were outweighed by lower healthcare costs and less unemployment for their current workforce.

Schor claims that the four-day workweek is less expensive for employers in the long run, not only in terms of revenue but also in terms of productivity.

Schor says that the Swedish trial had "and of course, the patients outcomes improved." "So I believe we will see more of this in healthcare because they are suffering from a lot burnout. Another thing that is important in health care is making mistakes. You're more likely make mistakes if you have stressed and tired employees.

Experts say the four-day work week has clear disadvantages that should be considered. Healthwise offers Fridays off to employees, but some human resource professionals believe that this can cause scheduling problems.

David Lewis, the CEO of OperationsInc, a human resource consulting firm, said that employees have already found it hard to unplug in the post-COVID-19 environment.

Lewis says, "I keep hearing more about 'I work from home' or I live at work'." "People don’t switch off their laptops, they don’t disconnect their phones."

Lewis believes that the most important aspects of work-life balance play a role. Researchers in New Zealand discovered that although employees are attracted to the 4-day workweek, many aspects of work actually intensified following the change. This included the pressure from managers about performance.

How are you going to get people to think in the opposite direction?

Similar to Lindsay Tjepkema (CEO of Casted), Fridays off is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t make her employees’ lives better.

Tjepkema says, "Real flexibility means being able to say, "Hey, I want to start work late" or "I want to leave early Wednesdays for child reasons, friend reasons, and pet reasons." So if I tell my company that flexibility means Fridays off, it's not flexibility. This is a mandate for a day off.

Schor is still leading trials. There is not enough data to make any conclusions about the cost savings of companies or the impact on employee satisfaction and performance that a four-day work week has had. This is happening in a difficult economy. Both workers and companies are being affected by inflation. Many business leaders are worried about the impact of rising interest rates. Schor believes that the four-day workweek is on an irreversible trajectory.

Schor says, "If you think of things like Friday off every other Friday, Fridays off during the summer, no meetings Fridays... Friday is slowly becoming a day when people are less plugged into their jobs." "And we know that once someone has something like this it is very difficult to take it away.

This is LaDonna Speiser. Since February, she has been working a four-day work week. We asked her if she would be willing to quit her job for a new one. She laughed and said that her life had changed because of this schedule. She's enjoying more of it and isn't ready to give it up.

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