(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)
When I ask my clients about the four-day work week I generally get the same response: the eye roll.
“Let me see if I understand this,” they will inevitably say. “The employee works for four days, but I pay them for five, right? Thanks, I’m out.”
According to these business owners, my clients, this kind of thing just won’t happen in America. And don’t you roll your eyes at them either: these are very smart and profit-minded people who care very much for their employees. But they are deeply dubious when they hear of the studies of the companies in the UK, Europe and elsewhere that implemented a four-day work week and who were “really pleased” and believe that the arrangement would result in people living “happier and more fulfilled lives”.
I understand their reaction, really, I do. We’re Americans. No one works as hard as us, right? These other people prefer to do silly things like take vacations, drink wine and spend more time with their families and friends. Now they only want to work four days a week? My God, what a bunch of lazy bums. Shame on them.
Actually, shame on us. We just don’t understand what’s going on with this trend.
This is not just about working four days a week. It’s about marketing. We market to attract and retain customers. But we don’t do enough to market and retain employees. The labor market couldn’t be any tighter. There are close to 11 million unfilled jobs out there. My clients complain frequently about how tough it is to compete for talent.
And yet, here is something that drops right on our laps and which can help us fix this labor shortage problem and we’re rolling our eyes? Yeah, shame on us for not recognizing the potential of the four-day workweek. All we need to do is fiddle with the scheduling.
Do you have hourly workers on the shop floor? Construction workers on the job site? Service techs out in the field? Customer service reps in the office? Then change their hours. Instead of an eight-hour day over five days offer the option of working 10 hours over four days. Congratulations, you’re now offering a four-day work week.
This is not a new concept. I see this frequently in healthcare, on the manufacturing floor and in other service industries. My daughter, a veterinarian and a millennial, works three 12-hour shifts a week for her employer, a national chain. The work gets done. She couldn’t be happier. So are they (I think).
What about salaried people? Look at their schedules, too. Can they take responsibility for delivering whatever is in their job description in however many hours it takes them to do the work? Do you care if your marketing manager is creating leads in four days or five days as long as the leads are coming in? Is it your concern that your accounting staff works four days if your bills are being paid and cash is being collected as always? Is there anything your HR manager is not doing in the flexible time offered? Stop thinking hours. Think deliverables.
You don’t even have to do this right away. You can make the four-day work week a program that only those employees working for your company for longer than a specified time can enjoy. It’s a carrot to dangle. A prize for the good employee. And a test to make sure the person has been a good hire.
Don’t fight this trend. Don’t pooh-pooh or give me the stink-eye. Instead, embrace the buzz. Go with it. Tell the world that you offer a four-day work week and how awesome it is to work for your company, and how pro-worker you are. People — particularly young people — love to hear this. And what do you care, as long as your people are getting the work done?