Three day weekends all the time?
Lynn Peeples in Scientific American:
Regular three-day weekends, without a decrease in the actual hours worked per week, could not only save money, but also ease pressures on the environment and public health, advocates say. In fact, several states, cities and companies across the country are considering, or have already implemented on a trial basis, the condensed schedule for their employees.
[…]Local governments in particular have had their eyes on Utah over the last year; the state redefined the workday for more than 17,000 of its employees last August. For those workplaces, there’s no longer a need to turn on the lights, elevators or computers on Fridays—nor do janitors need to clean vacant buildings. Electric bills have dropped even further during the summer, thanks to less air-conditioning: Friday’s midday hours have been replaced by cooler mornings and evenings on Monday through Thursday. As of May, the state had saved $1.8 million.
Perhaps as important, workers seem all too ready to replace “TGIF” with “TGIT”. “People just love it,” says Lori Wadsworth, a professor of public management at Brigham Young University in Provo. She helped survey those on the new Working 4 Utah schedule this May and found 82 percent would prefer to stick with it.
[…] An interim report released by the Utah state government in February projected a drop of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually from Friday building shutdowns. If reductions in greenhouse gases from commuting are included, the state would check the generation of at least 12,000 metric tons of CO2—the equivalent of taking about 2,300 cars off the road for one year.
Bradford Plumer in TNR:
In fact, the Scientific American piece might actually understate the benefits of a four-day workweek. As Aaron Newton has calculated, some 106 million Americans drive to work alone each day, an average of 16 miles each way. Cutting out one workday’s worth of commuting would not only lower U.S. oil imports by 5 to 10 percent, it would also prevent thousands of traffic fatalities, as well as cut down on the costs of road maintenance, since people tend to drive less on weekends. And workers would see a real income boost by saving on gas. (Newton also points out that if you staggered the four-day workweeks, you could clear up a lot of traffic congestion, though I’m not sure how practical that would be.) What’s not to love?
Derek Thompson in the Atlantic:
There’s another way to realize those kind of savings: Asking workers to telecommute. As I’ve written before, the benefits of telecommuting are pretty diverse. From the employer side, it can save office space, utilities and overhead for employee services. From the employee side, it allows parents to spend more time with their family and cut down on increasingly expensive travel given the rising price of gas and public transportation. And of course, fewer cars on the road means less traffic, which means quicker travels (and less gas) for other Friday commuters.
There are lots options concerning the number of hours a 4 Day Work Week could contain. Employees could work 10 hours a day and keep a 40 hour work week. Or they could simply eliminate an entire day and drop down to a 32 hour work week. In between is the idea of working 4 days a week, 9 hours a day. But regardless of how many hours people work, the important part to remember is that most tasks are going to get accomplished each week just as they did before. A recent survey by salary.com of over 10,000 American workers revealed that on average, we waste more than 2 hours each day surfing the web or making phone calls to friends. Might these distractions be activities that workers must be willing to trade for an entire extra day off to spend surfing on the Internet? I say that tongue in cheek as there are better ways to spend your new day off but the point is that the inbox is never empty and that important tasks could probably be completed in a shorter work week if time spent at work was all about work. A shorter work week would sharpen this focus and make the workplace more productive.
But a lot of the arguments that apply to the four-day workweek also apply to letting people work at home. Just as you can imagine a four-day workweek, you can also imagine a four-day workplace week. Friday, workers would work from home. They would still have access to e-mail. They would still be near a phone. But they wouldn’t have to commute. The employer wouldn’t have to run air conditioning or electricity or bring in a cleaning service. They would sleep a little later because they wouldn’t have to prepare to go to work and they would make lunch in their kitchen and be able to pick their kids up from school.
There are definitely advantages to an office environment. Being near other people and seeing their faces and going out to lunch and talking to your boss have real benefits. But are they so dominant that we should be in an office environment during every moment that we are paid to work? It’s hard, in an age of e-mail and cell phones and Gchat, to see why.
UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene