Response to An Ohio State-Wide 4-Day Work Week Initiative
By Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
A newly-formed Ohio organization called the Ohio Community Issues Foundation (OCI) asked me to critique and oppose various issues that its organization would put forth to advance the State of Ohio. I was delighted to accept the position of Resident Opponent when asked by David Lyttle the organization's founding director. Their first intiative and I believe an ambitious one was entitled "An Ohio State-Wide 4-Day Work Week Initiative". The text can be found by following this link: An Ohio State-Wide 4-Day Work Week Initiative. My response follows below.
Recently, the Ohio Community Issues Foundation (OCI) published a report entitled “An Ohio State-Wide 4-Day Work Week Initiative”, which it maintains will have positive benefits for employees, employers, and the Ohio economy. Although its arguments for such a proposal seem logical, even logic has its limitations. I offer my critique in what follows.
First, the idea of a four-day week is not new. For instance, the Utah state government went to a four-day ten-hour schedule in 2008; however, it was eliminated in 2011 because the projected cost savings did not materialize and customers complained about operating hours. Lawmakers in Oregon and Texas considered four-day workweek bills also, but neither passed. Additionally, many companies already allow for flexible work arrangements such as a 4/10 work schedule. And yes both some employers and employees seem to like this arrangement. But does one shoe fit all?
Answering the Proposal
The proposal considered three work schedule arrangements for consideration and adoption: (1) a four-day, 40-hour work week (4/10), (2) a four-day, 32-hour work week (4/32), and (3) any work schedule which produces an extra-day off. I will answer the most likely consideration which is the 4/10 work schedule because choice three is simply an extreme version of it and choice 2 is dead on arrival because Americans need more earned income not less.
The OCI proposal suggests that employees will receive an improved workplace and home-life balance, yet it fails to provide any evidence what that balance point is. The argument is simply left to logic based on benefits of more personal time for pursuits of various types like recreation, education, part-time income, etc. Presumably, employees will also save 20 percent on the costs of commuting to work and save on parking, vehicle wear and tear, and day care expenses. This seems logical but won’t they simply drive more and spend more with an extra day off. In a culture were personal and family debt is high anyway, receiving an extra day off will most likely lead to even more debt. To the authors’ credit, they do mention increased debt as a potential negative result.
The proposal suggests that employers will benefit from increased employee productivity, higher morale, reduced absenteeism, and reduced employee turn-over, but again it provided no evidence, not even anecdotal. I could find no scientifically rigorous evidence that a 4/10 schedule improves worker productivity. Most research related productivity to number of hours worked during the week. Most found that the shorter the number of work hours, the higher the productivity. For instance, Greek workers put in 2,000 hours a year, on average, while German workers put in about 1,400, yet German productivity was about 70 percent higher. With this evidence and logic, the OCI proposal would most likely reduce worker productivity because the same number of hours would be worked in a smaller time period, i.e., 40 hours in four days. However, the research does support increased worker productivity of a four-day 32 hour work schedule, which was one of the suggestions mentioned as a possible adoption in the OCI proposal. Moreover, can we equate the United States to Germany? Are work ethic, management style, and employee skill levels the same in the United States as in Germany? Without this knowledge, we have no way of knowing if even a four-day, 32 hour work week would be more beneficial to us.
The proposal opines that employers can achieve reduced cost of operations, overhead, and utilities since their businesses would be closed for an additional day. This is most likely true but only if the businesses can maintain their revenues with a reduced work week.
Moreover, the proposal uses the often-expressed beliefs in increased business activity and expansion as benefits to the overall Ohio economy, but it fails to mention inflation, contraction, recession, and depression which in many cases facilitate discussions of work schedule rearrangements in the first place. There are many other discussions which need to be had on a policy level such as regulation of certain business practices, i.e., banking and finance and environmental pollution. These too have the benefit of reducing stress, health, and financial concerns.
Also to the credit of the authors was their attempt to provide both positive and negative effects. However, the negative effects seemed to cancel out the positive ones. For instance, they suggested that small businesses (by the way, the majority of U.S. businesses are “small”) may encounter difficulties adjusting because they may have to hire additional staff to cover the fifth day or suffer losing revenues for that day. That’s huge if you consider that many businesses provide products and services face-to-face. This last point suggests that many businesses especially retail businesses would not be able to adopt this type of work schedule because they operate seven days a week, employ mainly part-time employees, and have seasonal sales.
Other potential negative results were employee fatigue, lack of personal time after work, and overspending and debt. Their solution for on-the-job fatigue was more minibreaks during the day, but was not one of the benefits more worker productivity. They seemed to suggest here that worker productivity may be limited in some cases. Furthermore, they answered that some employees may resent the four-day work week because it interferes with their personal time after work to which they responded that employers may have to act as counselors and listen to employees complaints. This would impose an additional burden on employers who might respond by providing counseling training to managers and supervisors. Lastly, overspending and debt is a real issue faced by many Americans. This negative result could derail the most likely intended benefit of a mandatory 4/10 work schedule, i.e. less stress and a healthier life, by creating more “stress”. Remember debt is an American cultural phenomenon.
Lastly, the proposal left many gaps which seem to contradict the wide-spread implementation of such a proposal. For instance, it mentioned the Utah government 4/10 work schedule which lasted a couple of years before being ended, but it failed to mention the continuation of the plan in Utah cities like Provo, which sees many benefits from the plan like utility savings and higher employee morale. My point is that maybe a wide-spread mandatory adoption is not necessary or wanted. Maybe companies and public entities should consider their own wants and desires?
They also mentioned Treehouse, which is an online education company which generates more than $10 million in annual sales, but Treehouse has a 4/32 hour work schedule, not a 4/10 work schedule. They also failed to mention CEO Ryan Carson’s comments about productivity (as mentioned by Bryce Coverts’ article on thinkprogress.org). “There are some drawbacks. Not working on Friday, he said, means no day of slowdown before the weekend. ‘It’s kind of like 100 miles per hour until Thursday at 6 p.m.’ And he acknowledges that less work may get done with one day off.” This is some evidence about productivity although anecdotal.
The OCI proposal to institute a state-wide reduced workweek schedule for the majority of Ohio’s companies and public agencies is not as logical as it seems. In fact, it admits that Utah tried it on the government level but ended the program because it did not achieve projected cost savings and too many citizens complained about reduced service hours. As mentioned earlier, lawmakers in Oregon and Texas rejected the same proposal. If the benefits of a reduced workweek were so logical than why has society not adopted it wholly? Maybe a one-shoe-fits-all approach isn’t in keeping with the way societal systems function. The adoption of a reduced workweek should not be determined by governmental decree but by the diversity of myriad business practices which exist in the free-enterprise system.