Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*

A mandatory four-day work week could create substantial economic savings for employers.  For example, Wake County in North Carolina estimates that it will save approximately $300,000 per year on utilities by closing its offices on Fridays.

However, not everyone supports the idea of a mandatory four-day work week.  Some parents may have to pay additional costs for early morning childcare, parents of older children may be forced to miss evening activities like sports games, and as Molly DiBianca recently pointed out, four ten-hour days may just be too exhausting for families with small children.  Another objection, often made by taxpayers, is that customers have come to expect service five days a week, regardless of whether they have increased access Monday through Thursday.

Enter Birmingham, Alabama.  The city switched to a voluntary four-day work week for its employees on July 1, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.  Employees still have the option of working a normal five-day schedule, and the ones who decide to work a four-day week may choose which weekday they would prefer to have as their extra day off.  The frequently cited environmental benefits of a four-day work week remain—fewer cars on the road, less traffic during rush hour, and an overall decrease in gasoline consumption.

The voluntary schedule seems to address the major complaints about a mandatory four-day week.  If an employee is unable to work a condensed week, that employee could still work a traditional five-day week.  Other employees looking for a shorter commute, an extra day off, and savings on gas could take advantage of the shorter week.

Birmingham’s voluntary four-day week also solves the problem of customer access.  With only some employees switching to the condensed schedule, customers not only have access to services five days a week, but they also receive the added benefit of earlier and later access Monday through Thursday.

The largest problem with making the four-day work week voluntary is that offices will need to remain open and powered five days a week.  This will likely negate any potential savings on utilities and make the four-day work week significantly less attractive to employers.

Given these incompatible benefits, a four-day work week is not the panacea that will solve all of the economic and environmental problems in the workplace.  But if employers are willing to give up the potential savings associated with a mandatory four-day week, a voluntary four-day schedule like Birmingham’s might be a good alternative.

*Guest Post by David Fry

[Editor’s Note: David is a rising second-year law student at Duke Law School with whom we had the privilege of working with this summer.  As evidenced above, David is remarkably talented and will surely make a great contribution to the practice of law when he enters the field officially.  Thank you, David!  md]

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