Seems as if just about everyone’s jumping on the four-day-week bandwagon as a cure for rising commuting costs. If you’re thinking about joining the crowd, don’t step on the gas pedal just yet.
First, let’s get past the old joke about the employee who, when told his company wanted him to work four days a week, said, “Gee, I’ve never worked that hard before and no one seemed to notice.”
OK, now let’s get back to reality and realize that the four-day week isn’t something new; a lot of employers adopted it in the 1970s during the first energy crunch. So we can learn some lessons from those days, and what to expect, good and bad, from switching to a four 10-hour days a week:
- It can be dangerous. If some of your employees work with or near machinery or equipment, common sense tells you that they’ll be less alert and careful in the ninth and tenth hour of each day. And imagine what their condition is like during the last hour of the week. In the ‘70s, a lot of companies saw a rise in accidents and Workers Comp claims after instituting the four-day schedule.
What to do: Based on safety, you can just exclude some workers from the four-day schedule. That may be tough for some workers to swallow – particularly if others are working the abbreviated schedule – but at least if you explain your reasons, you’ll have done the right thing.
- It can create dissension. Even when you give your best explanation, such as the safety reason cited above, employees are going to grumble if they don’t have access to the four-day schedule.
What to do: Besides giving an explanation, your best bet is to classify positions, not people, as eligible for the shorter week. That is, you can asterisk certain job descriptions as “four-day eligible.” Just be sure make “eligibility” part clear – that the company is not required to grant the benefit.
- It may not be popular. Here’s a way to an employer can dress up like Santa Claus and end up looking like Scrooge (before he met the ghosts): Grant employees a benefit they don’t want. There could be a lot of reasons employees would rather not work four 10-hour days, such as child-care issues or partners’ work schedules.
What to do: Survey your employees about the popularity of the idea, making sure they understand that it’s just a survey, and not a done deal.