Four-Day Work Week Saves Money, But at What Cost?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

With operating costs rising, employers around the country are entertaining the advantages of a four-day work week. Proponents of the abbreviated schedule boast benefits of cost savings, easier commutes, increased leisure time, and its viability as an alternative to layoffs. So why isn’t this trend becoming widespread?

Eric Patton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says for the schedule to work, it needs to be implemented very carefully.

“Organizations do not operate in a closed system,” explains Patton. “If a company decides to run on a four-day schedule, partner organizations and/or customers operating on the traditional five-day work week may be inconvenienced.”

But where did the five-day work week come from, anyway?

Patton explains the five-day work week stems from the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and, after World War Two, became the norm. It wasn’t until the early 1970s, over 25 years later, that the notion of a four-day work week was discussed.

“At the time, it was touted as a quality-of-life issue whereby workers could have more time with family and friends, schedule personal appointments, and enjoy additional leisure time,” says Patton. “Many of these issues are just as pertinent today.”

Since 1970, there have been earnest attempts by companies and government alike to implement the four-day work week.  In 1994, Volkswagon of Germany implemented the schedule only to retract it in 2006, partly because of resentment by workers not eligible to participate.

Patton says attempts like these often falter because of issues like resentment, loss in productivity, inconvenience and absenteeism. Many of the savings and benefits envisioned by managers often prove elusive. Workers, meanwhile, can become exhausted from the long hours and overwhelmed by cramming five days of work into four days.

The bottom line, according to Patton: “The four-day work week should not be a knee-jerk reaction based on desire to reduce costs in the short term. A sophisticated and comprehensive design of the program must be considered to avoid negative consequences for both workers and organizations. ”

Patton can be reached at epatton@sju.edu, at 610-660-3178 or by calling University Communications at 610-660-1222.



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