On April Fools day, I made a post about working all 40 hours of your work week at once and then having the rest of the week off. In the post where we discussed working from home, I mentioned that one way to reduce your commute is to work a shorter work week.
Before I go any further, let me address all the people who are poised to send me vicious hate mail saying things like “What type of world do you live in?!” or “My boss would never let me do this!” Please recognize that this won’t work for everyone–I know that. However, it is a good thing to keep in mind throughout your career because there may be a point where it would work for you.
Okay. Now that that is out of the way …
When I was a teenager, the school I attended was on a 4 day per week schedule. The state requirements for school specified a certain number of hours each year, and the school administrators found that, by having longer days, they could meet the requirements and free up Fridays. As a student, it was very beneficial because I was working as a waiter at the time and could pick up a day shift on Friday, which worked out very nicely. The extra hour or two that we spent each of the four days was well worth having a big block of time off (Friday).
These types of arrangements aren’t as odd as you might think in the current work force–particularly in healthcare–especially with night shifts. It is common for ER doctors and nurses to work three 12 hour shifts in a row and then have the rest of the week off. Some even work a series of shifts totaling 80 hours in a week and then take the next week off.
Back in 1994, the World Bank started a program where they would let people work longer days in exchange for the 10th day off as part of a work/family balance program. While there were challenges, the total productivity remained the same. Briton actually went to a three day work week as part of a strategy to conserve on electricity back in 1974.
My point is that not everyone is working 8 hour days 5 days per week. It depends on your job, but you might be able to ask about going to a 4 day work week. For some people, it might even be more productive. Imagine that you have 2 extra hours to get stuff done Monday through Thursday before anyone else came into the office. For a lot of people, these extra 8 hours would be much more productive when put before the normal work day on Monday through Thursday than they are all on Friday like normal because you would have a big block of uninterrupted time before the rest of the world got started. By coming in early, you may be able to miss traffic and cut your 2 hour commute to one hour. Then on your extra day off, you wouldn’t have the commute time at all.
Of course there are some downsides. There is a lot of problem solving that goes on when you sleep and most people are not operating at peak efficiency for 8 hours a day let alone 10. We need breaks and simply staying at work longer may not result in getting more done. This is particularly true if the bulk of your work involves a lot of heavy concentration. However, if you can switch between different types of task to avoid fatigue, it might work.
Here are some tips for if this is something that interests you:
- Try to shoot for coming in early instead of staying late. It is going to be easier to convince your boss that you’ll get more done by coming in a 7:30 am and getting a head start on everything than staying a few hours late.
- Try to arrange your schedule to avoid traffic. If you normally take an hour to drive to work, you may find that it only takes 30 minutes when you come in earlier.
- Make sure you are realistic about how long you can be productive. It is impossible to concentrate for 10 hours straight and you need to make sure that the type of work you are doing fits with this type of four day schedule.
- Concentrate on selling the business advantages to your boss. It doesn’t matter if it is convenient to you. You need to show that it is beneficial to the company business. (A lot of the tips from asking your boss to work from home still apply.)
- Consider consulting. If your current employer isn’t interested in this type of setup and you have skills that are in demand, you might consider becoming a consultant where you could set up this type of schedule for yourself. We will look at this in more detail later on.
Obviously, a 4 day week won’t work for everyone, but it is something to keep in mind as you work on achieving work/life balance. Your work productivity is important, but so is the time you spend with your family or pursuing your non-work activities.
Originally published April 14, 2007.
I think that four, ten hour work days in a week are ideal. I received a job offer from a place that works six, eight hour days with three days off rotational. Some of the police stations around here work twelve hour shifts, three on three off. But over all I think the firefighter have great shifts. 24 shifts, one day on, one day off, one day on, three days off. There are many variations of this type of rotation.
Karen Anderson says
A few years back I had a job at a pubishing company at which I worked four days a week and was paid for five. The agreement with my supervisor was that I would be as productive as other people in my group working five days a week with the same job description; as it turned out, I was actually more productive. Sadly, our group was transitioned to another part of the company during a re-org and the new division did not allow flexible work schedules. I was back to five days a week, a schedule that eventually led me to leave the company. The irony was that in the five-day schedule, people spent a least an hour or two a day on gossip, long coffee breaks, and, of course, lots of phone calls and emails dealing with personal business (legal issues, elderly parent issues, house repair, etc.) that could have been handled on their own time — if they’d had the fifth day off.
@Karen — Thanks for your comment. Just out of curiosity, was your employer offering 4 day work weeks to everyone or were you the only one doing that?
@Corey – I’m not sure I could handle a 24 hour shift. I’m guessing that firefighters get to sleep some during that time. Of course fighting fires would probably keep me awake for a 24 hour period too.
I once worked for a collection agency where everyone worked 4 – 10 hour days per week. The office was closed on Friday. It allowed the collectors to catch people at home before or after work.
I liked the schedule but not the job.
Recently I have started to “negotiate”my scheduler and I do not have Fridays off but I have shorter Fridays. During the week (Mondays to Thursdays) i came to work early and leave a little bit later and this allows me to end up the work week earlier Fridays. Lucky me that I have a good boss :)
But, as you have perfectly said, this cannot be applied by everyone and in every company, here is an article describing when 9-5 isn’t working for a business
Many companies or departments within companies are allowing 4 day work weeks. It benefits the employees and employers by providing extended and flexible staffing.
At my company if the employee does not provide a customer service function a 4 day work week is permitted. Added flexibility is gained by supplementing this with telecommuting.
Our HR studies have shown gains in productivity. During periods where raises and other compensation will be flat or minimal this can be used to compensate for lost pay increases.
I’ve worked a 4 day workweek for 10 years, and love it. Our employer has always had a 10 hour workday. The extra 2 hours isn’t really that much more difficult once you get used to it. Our dept was on a crazy 2 week average for a while, where we’d work 12 hour days, 4 one week and 3 the next, for an average of 44 hours/week (we were all on salary). The 4 day week was looooong, but a 4 day weekend was awesome.
Our company has a slight variation. We can’t close the office for a whole day so iinstead we work an extra 1/2 hour Monday to Thursday and then get off 2 hours early on Friday. It’s amazing what a psychological difference it makes to get home early on Fridays. More time to take care of personal things that are best done during ‘business hours’. Or just get a jump on the weekend. The extra 1/2 hour each day is barely noticeble.
why not solve the unemployment problem that some of us know will only get worse in our post industrial economy, reduce the work week to 24 hours/ three days standard. there is no fundamental truth or law that says everyone has to work “full time” 40 hours a week. there will still be plenty of work left over for anyone who wants/ needs to do 30+ hours and people will be able to spend time doing what they want. get a hobby, an allotment, more time with your family, help out with charity and other creative projects that make our communities a better place for everyone. people would also be generally fitter with more physical activity. really the only things that need to be 24-7 are water, energy, food production, emergency services and one or two others. stop people making a lifestyle choice to live on benefits (im looking at it from a uk perspective), put them to work doing something constructive.
A four day work-week does sound fantastic! Unfortunately, where I’m from (Australia) it seems a 50+ hour work-week is pretty standard in corporate workplaces. (Ten hours * five days).
I couldn’t cope! I used up all my days off doing mundane things like going to the dentist, the doctor, getting my hair cut, and sometimes just to recover. When I asked my boss if I could please please please work part-time, he said no way… so I had to quit to preserve my sanity. Now I work in academia and don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to return to full-time work in a corporate setting. I’d rather stock shelves at a supermarket!
I’m doing this right now at my job. I work 3, 12 hour days one week, and 4, 12 hour days the next, and every two weeks I have a three day weekend. I love these kinds of shifts, because if I’m working 8 hours, I may as well work 12.
The only downside is that it doesn’t leave me much time to do anything on the days I work, and I’m not able to schedule something at the same time every week (because I work opposite days each week).
However, I also get to work from home on the weekends :)
Toni hill says
Are you on salary? If so do you get compensated for the 8 extra hours you work the 4 day work week
Lara QT says
At Regency we operate a 9/80 system – where the staff work 80 hours in 9 days instead of 10. So in effect everyone gets every other Friday off. Because we are a small team we split the roster – one half are off this Friday and the other half next week.
It works wonderfully as people are encouraged to schedule doctor appointments and any other personal engagements they would usually need time off for on their 9/80 Friday. And because half their team is in, the customer is not negatively impacted – there is always someone here to talk to.
In Trinidad we are one of the few firms that does this as it is very unusual outside the energy sector.
Hey! I have been a fireman for 2 years and i work 4 days on 4 days off, i really like this job i get paid for 5 days and i only work 4 days, i get 75,000 pound a year,
Twain ALi says
It sounds great if you’re not doing manual labor! Check this out though….i work for a major car company who’s trying to switch over to 4 10’s. But instead of Mon-Thur with Fri off, its a rotating schedule based on what team you’re on. Example: everyone is off Sat & Sun but if you’re on team 1 you have Mondays off, team 2 Tues off, Team 3 Wed off and so on, with your teams days rotating each week! Now it sounds great because 8 times out of the year we will receive a four day weekend! Not bad right? But! the main reason people want this is for that 3rd day off….an extra day where you get your 8 hours of labor back. Helloooo! 4×2 = 8 Correct? 2 extra hours each night gives your employer those 8 hours you praise right back! Especially in a warehouse fatigue and stress will wear you down at a faster rate. Now our employer tells us “this is all for you guys, its no benefit to us”. LMAO yea right! Its all a scam to get more production out of each employee in 1 work day! This world is slowly turning us into robots & batteries!
There are a number of people in manufacturing industries that do use a 4 day on 4 day off schedule, primarily for the support people within the business. It’s based on an 8 week cycle and you require a team of 8 people if you want to have 2 people on per shift to cover any issues and complete maintenance.
From my understanding it works very well too, with most employees liking the option of working 4 x 10 hour days for 4 days off.
If the people within the organization are support and maintenance people and components of the business do not run 24/7 they can use the downtime of the machinery to complete servicing rather than interrupting productive time.
I read some article online that Kelloggs years ago reduced their workers hours to 6 per day for only 4 days a week and found that people worked harder for fewer hours. They were able to pay the same for the 6/4 as the 8/5 because the productivity was the same. The workers were also a lot more relaxed because they had plenty of free time to spend with their spouse and children.
Mark Shead says
Interesting. I’m going to have to try to find that study.
A workplace I worked in years ago had a similar sort of deal. The workers would be given a certain amount of work to complete each day and would be paid the full 8 hours worth if they did it in 4 hours or 12 hours.
The employees always finished before time and went home early with full pay.
We did have to cease it after a period of time though as long term strain injuries started to emerge, some of them quite costly.