Beth Braccio Hering,
If your employer offered the opportunity to work four 10-hour days per week instead of a traditional five 8-hour-day workweek, would you take it?
Teresa Allen, a customer service representative for American Fidelity Assurance Co. in Oklahoma City, did take it and is pleased with her decision.
"I love the arrangement of the four-day workweek. I like getting to the office as early as I do, 6:30 a.m. The morning is my most productive time of the day, the phones are off until 8:00 a.m. and the office is very quiet. I enjoy having Wednesdays off and can focus on spending time with family and maintaining a home. It helps me with balancing stresses of being a family provider and full-time employee."
Allen is not alone in her sentiments. From employees able to save a day of child-care costs to employers pleased to have extended hours of office coverage, the system can be win-win. In Utah, where a four-day workweek became mandatory for many state employees, energy use was reduced 13 percent during the first year of implementation, and it is estimated that employees saved as much as $6 million in gasoline costs by not driving into the office on Fridays.
"The shortened workweek could give employees more time to handle family and personal business, making it less likely that they would need to miss work for doctor's visits or other personal matters. Also, a four/10 schedule gives employees 52 extra days off each year, allowing them the freedom to do whatever they wish on those days," says Rick Gibbs, senior human resources specialist for Insperity, a human resources provider headquartered in Kingwood, Texas. "In our new economy, the flexibility and autonomy provided to employees make it an idea worth exploring."
While the thought of a midweek break or a three-day weekend all the time may sound alluring, the arrangement has potential shortcomings, especially when only some employees are on the alternative schedule.
"Being out of the office means less visibility and less access to the flow of ideas and information," says Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "When decisions are made, you may not be there, and the potential to be marginalized is very real. Out of sight could literally translate into out of mind."
Other potential pitfalls include:
- Work "leaking" into the scheduled off day, such as answering emails or phone calls at home.
- Trying to find extended child care for the 10-hour days.
- Feeling drained by the longer hours.
- Diminished productivity as the 10-hour day progresses.
- Stress on co-workers to pick up the slack at the office on days a fellow employee is off.
From an employer's perspective, Cohen notes that organizing meetings can be a logistical challenge when different employees are off on different days. For companies at which everyone works the same four/10 schedule, closing the doors on a traditional business day may not go over well with customers. "Gaps could result in disruptions to client service, productivity and other similar issues," Gibbs says.
"Companies should also be mindful of state wage and hour regulations, which have fairly detailed definitions of 'workweek' for purposes of the payment of overtime," Gibbs adds. "California, for example, requires overtime payments after eight hours worked in a day, and the state has a process that employers must follow to develop an alternative workweek schedule."
Wave of the future?
While not every employer is willing or able to offer an alternative schedule, and not every employee would want one, the popularity of having a choice seems destined to grow.
"Flexible work options are becoming the trend, particularly as companies look to cut costs such as overhead and occupancy charges and to be competitive for the generations that are looking for greater flexibility and balance in their lives," says Xan Raskin, owner of Artixan Consulting Group, a human resources consultancy in New York City. While acknowledging that flexible schedules do take extra time on the employer's part to set up and monitor, Raskin has seen firsthand as a manager the difference it makes in employee morale and loyalty.
"The key is to set agreed-upon ground rules, communicate expectations clearly and take action if productivity levels drop off. Compared to the exorbitant costs of employee turnover, if you can keep one valuable employee who otherwise would have left, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs and risk."