Before 1938 the American work week looked a lot different than what we see today. Often times, an employee was required to work over twelve hours a day, sometimes six days a week. To improve employee morale on a National level, the Federal Government instated the Labor Standards Act, which standardized the eight hour work day and forty hour work week. Thus, the landscape of traditional American Employment was created.
The idea that employees should work the hours outlined in the Labor Standards Act is no more than that; an idea. While the standard was changed back in 1938 to fit the needs of the American people, it now looks like companies nationwide are moving towards a new idea. The concept of the four-day work week with 10 hour days is revolutionizing the way we work and resetting the ‘standard’.
The Benefits of Four Tens
The idea of the four day work week has actually been around for a while, and hesitant companies have watched eagerly as bolder organizations tested the waters. The results have proven to be a bit surprising, as employees on this schedule have demonstrated more innovation, creativity and productivity since the switch.
In the 1930’s, renowned business owner W. K. Kellogg decreased his company’s work week. He had this to say about his decision: “The efficiency and morale of our employees is so increased, the accident and insurance rates are so improved, and the unit cost of production is so lowered that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight.”
Experts speculate the increased proficiency and efficiency is due to a new found sense of urgency. As an employee’s work week decreases, their workload does not. Even if they are working the same amount of hours, the idea of one less day creates a psychological notion that they need to work harder and faster to complete their weekly tasks. In addition to a sense of urgency, experts also see increased productivity as a result of decreased absenteeism. With one extra day during the week to themselves, employees are able to complete personal tasks such as doctor’s appointments, court dates and more without having to miss work.
It has also been shown that employees who participate in a four day work week are generally happier people. Sixty percent of Americans admit they do not spend enough time with their families. With a four day work week, employees will be at home almost as many days as they are at work. More time at home and more personal time increases employee morale exponentially.
Managers at organizations that have already decreased their work weeks have also seen increased levels of morale due to more frequent social interaction between employees. Generally, people have plans with family and personal friends on Fridays and Saturdays. Opening an additional evening for your employees to gather as friends outside of work creates meaningful and lasting relationships within your workforce. One of the top reasons a person will stay at their place of employment, even when offered more money from another company, is because of a strong personal relationship with someone they work with.
The Challenges of Four Tens
Although the benefits of creating an alternative work schedule are numerous, it’s obviously a big decision to make for any company, and there are possible negative impacts which should not be left unexplored. For example, the issue of trying to find childcare to accommodate the extended work hours has proven to be a challenge for some employees. Also, dependent on the type of business, closing your doors during normal business days could decrease clientele.
But these issues have only proven to present themselves as problems in the initial stages of implementation. Once employees and clients alike have acclimated to the changes, the positives in most cases seem to outweigh the negatives. If something like childcare may be an issue for your employees, give it test run during the summer. If it proves to be something that doesn’t work for your company, simply revert back to the customary schedule at the close of the summer.
The Big Impact of Four Tens
Luckily, decreased work weeks have been in place in the United States for some time. There have also been countless studies documenting alternative work schedules, which could assist an otherwise weary business owner in making an educated decision. During the “oil shocks” of the 1970’s, it was actually federally mandated that companies cut down their work weeks to decrease the demand for oil. This benefit of commuting just four days a week is still a major plus for many Americans. If each company was required to stagger the ‘fifth day’ and alternate days off, commuters would see an overall decrease in traffic by twenty percent! Not only would we save time, gas and money, we would also significantly lessen the release of airborne contaminates and harmful pollutants.
Reasons Behind the Current Trend
So, why is the change happening now, after nearly seventy years of a compliant American Public? The shift in employee wants and needs is largely due to the fact that employee demographics are also changing. As Baby Boomers retire, ‘Gen Xer’s’ take on powerful decision-making roles and the ‘Gen Y’ nineties babies graduate from college to enter into the workplace, the landscape of American employment is drastically changing yet again.
These generations will be looking to do things differently and improve upon what their parents left for them. Both Generations X and Y are the first to grow up being “plugged-in,” so to speak. They have had computers in their homes from early childhood or early adulthood, with the internet at their fingertips and social interaction through digital means. With more value on productivity rather than presence, Gen Y craves a healthy balance between work and personal time. Offering a four day work week could possibly be that ‘extra something’ which will help companies land attract and retain the most promising Generation Y candidates.
The four day-ten hour work week is a trend that certainly has great benefits. Instead of mandating that everyone take off one day a week, let the employee decide! If that is the direction that your company would like to head, then letting the employee take charge of their own schedules will, in the long run, work out in your favor. The benefits of the reduced work week will eventually spread by word of mouth, and it won’t be long until everyone is opting in!