Ditch Five Day Work Week: Let’s do four days, instead.

Greetings from Washington, D.C. where our attention has turned to the drama of the impeachment inquiry. Local bars are opening early and some have changed their bar menus expressly for the occasion. Starting at 11:00 AM at the Capitol Lounge, adult beverage fans may enjoy an Insane in the Ukraine which consists of Stoli Blueberi vodka, soda, and frozen lemonade, or, a Mrs. Conway which is concocted with George Dickel whiskey, cherry liquor, and soda “served on separate beds.”

Priced at 450 Rubles. Cheeky.

ditch five day work weekMind you, the vast majority of D.C.’s labor force cannot take much more than a brief lunch break to bear witness to any of the current Capitol Hill proceedings; most workers here relentlessly toil at their jobs eight hours or more each day, five days each week.

The five-day work week has been a thing since the early 1900s when manufacturing facilities in New England adopted it, to allow Jewish laborers the opportunity to observe Shabbat (their Saturday sabbath) unimpeded. Eventually, it became the accepted American labor standard.

As a former executive recruiter, I can count many instances in which my clients (hiring managers) required that their new hires be face-to-face present at the workplace, five days a week. However, technological disruption has made it so that people who work can be easily engaged and productive working just four days a week wherever they happen to be. One of those innovations, Zoom, allows people who work the flexibility to video-conference anywhere at any time. I’ve participated on several Zoom sessions and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, most especially for how little time out of my workday it took for me to use it, and then move onto doing something else.

I believe that there is intersectionality between the continued adherence to the five-day work week and more workers calling the work that they do meaningless. According to the Gallup Organization, an astounding 66 percent of the American workforce feels some level of disengagement on the job. And that’s not right.

If adopted by American hiring managers, a four-day work week would:

  • Allow workers one day more each week to rest, recover, and get back into the game. More rest would certainly mean fewer sick days taken by people which would immediately improve any company’s bottom line. It may even encourage more people to use all of their earned vacation days, because the added day off each week would place workers in a more relaxed frame of mind and body;
  • Help pivot work week standards away from hours or days worked and towards total quality assurance for work completed. We know from our friends and Millennial Generation chroniclers Mike Hais and Morley Winograd that Millennials—the biggest cohort in the American workforce—treat work as “part of the day, not the day,” and as such, value opportunities to break up the day and the calendar to live their lives more meaningfully. As a result, Millennials do often work harder and more efficiently, because they work effectively during some non-office hours;
  • Reduce the strain on our nation’s transportation system by taking more vehicles off of roads. And workers get to retain more of their income that would otherwise go to out-of-pocket commuting costs, and;
  • Keep people more engaged on-the-job and less prone to leave for work opportunities at other companies. We have a workforce retention problem that goes unnoticed, because our historically low American unemployment numbers grab all of the business news headlines. But the workers who are working those long hours over a five-day-week often feel undervalued. Pivoting to a four-day-work week would help mitigate the work crisis that lays under the surface of such apparently rosy employment metrics.

And here’s another consideration: companies need not switch to operating four-days-a-week if they feel it is not in their interest to do so. Instead, they can stagger their workers four-day schedules over five days.

Ultimately, I think we are headed to a future of work that is somewhat entrepreneurial in the sense that the worker will be treated more like a partner in the process and less as a subordinate. Workers that feel more integral to a company’s success will honor their employers with longer tenures and more personal loyalty.

When we ditch the five day work week, and when more people work four days a week rather than five, our best days lie ahead.

Catch up on past episodes of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen Podcast. Find us on Apple PodcastStitcher, on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. STREAMING NOW: Career coach and “Queen of the Millennials” Nicole Rousseau explains how she helps companies embrace Millennials who now comprise the largest part of the American workforce. Listen HERE.

DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience, LLC. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope Meaningful Work Podcast.  Please comment here to let us know how we are doing, and, to offer suggestions for future guests and topics.

Photo credit: Woman headed to work on bicycle, iStock Photo.