Article main image
Jul 16, 2010

If you’re reading this today (on a Friday), you’re probably not on a four-day work week (or you’re just an overachiever who likes to catch up on news and information on your long weekend). And if you’re like me on a Friday, you’re probably wondering whatever happened to that four-day work week idea?

A couple of years ago, Utah implemented a four-day workweek and many thought it would usher in a rage of four-day workweeks to both the public and private sectors.

They were half right.

While the public sector has continued to embrace the four-day work week, private corporations have been hesitant.

The public sector leading the way?

That seems backward, right? Industrial progression happens in private companies and then (and only then) does the public sector embrace and implement. Yet in the last couple of weeks, public employers such as Winston-Salem, NC, Effingham County, GA, and Franklin (VA) City Public Schools have implemented four-day work weeks. And more cities like Westminster, CO and Indio, CA are considering using it.

The primary driver of this wholesale implementation seems to be cost savings as declining public revenues continue to impact governments. And while much of the savings is pretty minimal, the impact on employee morale has also been a big selling point as well.

So if the public sector is doing it, why can’t private corporations?

Private sector hesitancy

Look no further than Kris Dunn’s take at the HR Capitalist:

I’m going to address your exempt level professional worker who is not supervising a production/manufacturing environment. You know the type – they have decision making authority about when and how they work on their responsibilities and objectives.

By moving to a 4 day work week, you just told them the job was about hours – not about meeting the objectives, not about helping the company hit it’s plan, and certainly not about dreaming up an innovation through their engagement level with their job. You may not know it, or be willing to agree with it, but by moving them to a four-day week, you just told them their objective was (shudder..) 40 HOURS.

And that’s really the cusp of the problem. In government offices, even exempt employees work fairly rigid schedules. Flexible scheduling has not been the name of the game. And four-day work weeks work great with rigid schedules.

In most of the white collar, exempt employee world, that rigidity doesn’t exist. When you need to work late or on a weekend, you do. If you’re working a four-day work week and a project demands more attention than four days, what are you going to do? Well, you’re probably going to be working on Friday. And you thought the Monday through Friday grind was terrible.

As Dunn mentions, the best practices for these white collar, exempt workers is to decrease reliance on face time, up the amount of hours flexibility you have and focus on objectives and results when evaluating performance.

What’s your take? Why haven’t we seen wider adoption of the four-day work week in the private sector?