Many employers and employees love the thought of a four-day workweek. Supposedly, a four-day work schedule allows workers extra time to pursue leisure activities and family togetherness. Spurred on by visions of spending more time at the beach, many people are now encouraging businesses to adopt this kind of work plan.
There are many purported advantages
. Some authorities say that a four-day work schedule facilitates
the ability to provide child care and assistance for the elderly.
Proponents of such “compressed” work schedules – those in which employees work longer hours for fewer days of the week – point to gains in productivity that result from decreased overhead costs
, such as not having to keep the lights on when nobody is working. Additional cost savings can be obtained from reducing total weekly commuting time
A variety of business have tested the four-day concept, including Amazon, Google, Deloitte
and a host of smaller firms. Amazon announced in late August that it is experimenting with an even shorter workweek of 30 hours for select employees, who would earn 75 percent of their full-time salary, should they choose to opt in.
Many of the pilot programs have shown promising results. Statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that 31 percent of employees
were in a compressed workweek schedule as of 2015. That’s the case, however, for only 5 percent of large companies.
This is an issue in which I have considerable experience. I have been studying the health effects of long working hours for nearly 30 years. All the studies point to the potential dangers that can occur as the result of the additional risks created when work demands exceed a particular threshold. Most of the studies I have performed suggest that the dangers are most pronounced when people regularly work more than 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week.
It sounded like a good idea
more than 60 hours per week, equivalent to 12 hours per day, were more than three times as likely to eventually suffer heart disease, cancer, arthritis or diabetes, and more than twice as likely to have chronic lung disease or asthma, as women working a conventional 40-hour workweek. Working just a bit more, an average of 41 to 50 hours per week, over many years appeared to substantially increase
the long-term risk of disease.
These studies show that not all hours are created equal. The research suggests that harm may occur past a certain point
. A four-day week causes workers to squeeze more hours than usual into a day. For workers who are already prone to overwork, the additional burden of compressing five days into four could literally break the camel’s – or worker’s – back.
Besides the health issues, employers and workers also need to consider the effect that compressing hours into a four-day period has on workers’ mental health, stress levels and fatigue.
realize that people do not function as effectively when tired or stressed. This may be even more of a concern for older persons.
Moreover, just squeezing five days of 10-hour-a-day work into a compressed 40-hour schedule can create more rigidity and reduced flexibility for families and children. For example, if the two additional work hours per day are added onto a conventional day schedule that begins in the morning at approximately 8 or 9 a.m. and extends into the late afternoon hours at about 4 to 5 p.m., then many working parents will lose the ability to interact with their children just at the “prime time” of about 5 to 7 p.m. when kids otherwise would be most likely to be in the house and potentially available to socialize with their siblings and parents – before their bedtime arrives.
There are many obvious ways to address these concerns and make life easier for workers and their families. Don’t overwork. Don’t stay too long at work. Find a job with an employer that has flexible working hours.
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I don’t know about you, but the prospect of a four-day week scares me. I already have a hard enough time getting my regular weekly work done over five days. And it’s always so tempting to glance at my work email – just a couple more notes to jot down.
Instead, why not just pull back at a certain point? Maybe it’s time to take Friday off every so often. How about ending work at noon on Fridays, as is the practice of many Jews, to bring in the weekend in a gradual way? The trade-off, if necessary, would involve adding a small increase of one hour per day to the normal Monday through Friday schedule. That approach is actually my personal favorite.
My friend Lonnie Golden, a professor at Pennsylvania State University – Abington, advocates adopting a “Goldilocks” workweek: one that is not too long, not too short and that satisfies the employer’s interest in productivity and the employee’s interest in attaining good health and well-being.
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