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Four-day work week catching on across U.S. Special

By David Silverberg     Aug 9, 2009 in Lifestyle
Would you want to work a four-day work week? What if it reportedly helped the environment, saved your company money and gave you more time with the family? More cities are pursuing the idea of working four 10-hour days a week.
Working on Fridays is always a groan-worthy idea. Employers, too, are reconsidering how often staff should work on that final day before the weekend. Recent research shows that many cities in the U.S. are embracing the concept of the four-day work week, and last year the entire state of Utah has mandated that government employees take Friday off.
Since August 2008, state workers in Utah have enjoyed a three-day weekend. On the four days they work, they extend their day to 10 hours. No questions asked. A recent survey of 17,000 of those Utah civil servants found some encouraging results for proponents of this idea: 82 per cent of respondents say they prefer the hours. Employees also said they feel healthier, showing “decreased health complaints, less stress and [taking] fewer sick days”.
As for cost savings, Utah had saved $1.8 million on energy and cleaning bills nine months into the "four-ten" plan.
There are eco-friendly benefits too: in February, the state projected a decrease of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually due to Friday building shutdowns.
Researchers are still trying to figure out all the benefits and dollar values associated with the four-day work week, admits Lori Wadsworth, a faculty member in the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University. She and her team are analyzing data to determine where this trend is taking place.
Through her research, she found at least 70 cities practice some form of the "compressed work week," as it's called. It might not mean everyone takes off Friday; some companies stagger the days off, staying open five days a week, but allowing staffers to enjoy a breather on staggered schedules.
"Once a cities start implementing the four-ten, it's hard to back out of it," Wadsworth cautions in an interview, saying employees like the new workplace schedule so deeply they have no desire to go back to the 9-to-5 five-day work week.
But why would they change, she points out. After all, a compressed work week allows parents to spend more time with kids, and gives recreation time to overworked executives. Even the unions support the idea, saying they want their membership to enjoy a better quality of life.
Another unexpected benefit of a shortened work week? Increased volunteerism. Pre-anecdotal data collection found that volunteering in Utah increased after the four-day work week came into effect. Also, Tufts University research discovered about 43 per cent of Utah residents older than 25 volunteer, while the national average is 28 per cent.
More sectors are toying with the idea in order to drastically cut costs. Take struggling automakers -- starting August 10, General Motor's plant workers in Lordstown, Ohio, will work four 10-hour days a week.
Democratic member of the New York State Assembly Michael N. Gianaris says the four-ten initiative should be a no-brainer for state leaders. "As we move further into the 21st century, governments need to look for ways to become more efficient. Moving to a four-day workweek should be at the top of the list."
California's budget deficit might be too massive to repair through a four-day work week, but can states like New York consider this an opportunity to prioritize? Will this idea ever make it north of the border to Canada?
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