The rise and rise of the four-day week

2008

The government of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently floated what might seem like a novel – and potentially very popular – way of combating global warming and high fuel costs. How about a four-day working week, folks?

The idea, proposed by a the government's agency for energy conservation, would see much of the government machine shutting down on Fridays in order to conserve energy and cut back on car use.

But far from being revolutionary, several US state governments have already adopted similar initiatives, most notably in Utah, where thousands of state employees start a four day working week this month and others have been working four 10 hour days for several years.

The 'Working 4 Utah' initiative, the brainchild of governor Jon Huntsman, is expected to save around $3 million annually in energy costs by shutting down 1,000 of the state's buildings every Friday. That means that 17,000 people — or 80 percent of the state's workforce - will be off the road and out of the office.

In Birmingham, Alabama, nearly 2,500 city employees started working four days a week last month, while Wayne County in North Carolina goes the same way this week, with other districts likely to follow their lead.

What's interesting about these U.S. initiative is that they aren't just about saving energy and money. Studies from Utah have shown that they're popular with staff and management alike despite the obvious down-sides.

One reason for this is that with fuel prices continuing to rise, commuting one day fewer each week means a significant saving on fuel costs.

Meanwhile, research by Rex Facer and Lori Wadsworth of Brigham Young University found that even though staff squeeze the same number of hours into their four days as their colleagues on traditional work schedules, they reported being more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to look for employment elsewhere over the next year.

The secret, as France found with its 35-hour working week, is that staff have more time to spend with their families and perusing personal interests or hobbies.

Writing in the in the June issue of Review of Public Personnel Administration, Wadsworth said:

"There are going to be very real benefits for employees, specifically decreased gas cost, decreased commute time (both because they only have to commute four days, but also because they'll be commuting during off-peak times, so the commute could potentially be shorter each day), and hopefully, improved work-life balance."

On the other had, the opinion of Utah's citizens is split over the new schedules, with a third very unhappy with the four-day week and another third supportive.

But whatever the public reaction, with state governments in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho and New Mexico all considering a move to a four-day week, it's clear that this is one working revolution that looks set to have a considerable impact in years to come.