Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The four-day work week

The article in Inside Higher Ed about some colleges shifting to a four-day work week to save on energy costs isn't the first I've heard of this. NPR did a story on government offices doing the same thing. The comments at IHE indicate that some people think this is a bad idea, a poor use of resources, etc. I think it's a great idea but poorly implemented, mostly from a human resources perspective. In both the IHE article and the NPR story, the workers had to fit 40 hours into 4 days, meaning they had to work 10 hours a day. In my book, that would suck. If I had to work a 10 hour day, I'd have to leave my house at 7 and wouldn't get home until after 6. So I'd be gone most of the day and I'd be exhausted when I got back and would probably snap at the kids, etc. And I still have to make dinner, tend to homework, do laundry, etc. in a much more compressed schedule. And I know, I'd get a 3-day weekend, big whoop. What I'd like to see is someone propose a true shortening of the work week. Why not shorten it to 30 hours? That would mean a 7.5 hour work day plus a 3 day weekend. Why do workers have to suffer so that a company can save money? In some cases, the theory goes that you're saving the workers gas money. That probably amounts to about 10 bucks a week. Is that worth a 10 hour day? For parents, the 10 hour day has been problematic because most daycare centers aren't open that long. Some have been accommodating and some haven't. Another solution that hasn't been discussed is telecommuting. Why not have one day where everyone works from home? For those who do mostly office work, this would work out just fine.

I'd like to point out that in academic institutions, the people that 4-day work weeks affect most are the staff, not the faculty. Many faculty I know already only come to campus a few days a week, so institutionalizing a Friday off is not likely to affect their schedule. They wouldn't need to put in 10 hour days on campus (most work this much anyway, just at various locations). It might also affect the students, who, as the IHE article points out, still need access to libraries and student services.

I have to say I continue to be amazed at what American workers will do to keep a job.