Culture

Four-Day Workweek? Careful What You Wish For

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2017 file photo, a Pacific Gas

I happened to catch Fox Business Network money-man Charles Payne talking about his support for a four-day workweek on America’s Newsroom this week. Payne is so enthusiastic in his support that he told host Sandra Smith that if he ever ran for president, the four-day workweek would be—paraphrasing here—the integral plank in his campaign platform.

Mr. Payne thinks that the promise of a universal three-day weekend would be insanely popular with the American people. He might be right, cue the polling. But unpacking the idea, I have to wonder if the implementation of such a revolutionary change in work scheduling would in practice prove to be as good an idea as Payne thinks it is.

I dug up a few articles on the subject.

Forbes contributor Richard Eisenberg accentuates the positive in “The 4-Day Workweek: Has Its Time Come?” In one Microsoft study, productivity increased almost 40% after a summertime four-day workweek was given a trial run. But a well-sourced article from Ohio State Professor Allard Dembe at The Conversation website highlights the perils of compressed work schedules.

These articles do a good job covering the bases, but in the final analysis left me unconvinced that the four-day workweek will…work.

For the go-getters, the Type-As, the workaholics like Charles Payne, having a third day off will be virtually meaningless. Such individuals will keep their noses to the grindstone. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, unless you’re one of the workers who actually takes the day off while hyper-motivated coworkers forge onward. One way or another, and this will be true across many professions and fields, he or she who regards the supposed day off as an opportunity to keep working in whatever capacity will accrue an advantage over the employee who does not.

People who are, for example, building businesses or in the midst of a lucrative, game-changing contract or development, are going to look askance at a workweek made unproductive by one day. Business owners and managers steeped in the ethic of entrepreneurialism will regularly skip that extra day off, even if they allot it to their workforce. Even if they send employees and staffers home for a three-day weekend with all blessings, they, and perhaps a core group of “What’s a weekend?” diehards will continue to hammer out progress with whatever product or service the company provides.

A four-day workweek will not preclude employers from offering overtime. The fifth day will be the overtime, and when the time comes for promotions and advancements, who do you think is more likely to get ahead, the guy or gal who never declines an opportunity to come in and help the company meet schedules and process orders, or the guy or gal who happily waltzes out the door every Thursday night?

There’s another group of workers who will openly scoff at the idea of the four-day workweek—illegal immigrants. What are they supposed to do on the fifth day—lazily sit around in the so-called shadows? In the real world, just when you’re getting comfortable on your patio furniture with My Pillow Guy Mike Lindell’s memoir, you’ll hear the leaf-blowers coming up the street.

There’s yet another group of workers who will never take that fifth day. The inner cabals of the tech giants never sleep. While hundreds of thousands of good conservative workers are vying for Friday morning access to the boat ramp, policy wonks in the tech sector will be huddled in conference rooms brainstorming ways to censor conservative free speech.

People are saying (thanks, Mr. President!) that the way to make a four-day workweek work will be to have staggered or revolving schedules. This system has the potential for extreme disgruntlement. Not everybody will get the coveted Friday-Sunday slot—the slot that our natural body-clocks and work-conditioned psyches consider the normal weekend time off. With staggered/revolving scheduling, some people are going to have to take the Monday-Wednesday or Wednesday-Friday slots.

Four-day proponents argue that such scheduling will enable more family time. That only works if your three-day weekend slot coincides with that of your spouse or life partner. Most folks would rather have a good two-day weekend with the family than pass like ships in the night around staggered scheduling that has the missus heading out to work on Thursday morning just as your three-day weekend kicks off.

Another theoretical plus that would come with a shortened workweek is that it would ease the commuting cluster. Maybe, but that only works with the revolving, staggered scheduling outlined above. If everybody gets the desired Friday-Sunday off, there’s still going to be a monster traffic jam on Monday morning and Thursday afternoon.  And with revolving or staggered scheduling, you’ll only succeed in spreading the misery out over days and days. There will be no real “weekend.”

No, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man might say, “America was built on interminable commutes, Monday morning rat races, and Friday afternoon escapes…and we liked it!”

It is said, by people, that if you divided up all the money on earth, currently in the hands of the top-whatever percent, and distributed it evenly among the population, within five years (or is it ten?) all the smart cookies, the achieve-acholics, the over-performers will have cornered the market on most of that money again.

A four-day workweek that frees millions to enjoy an extra day off is like that, in that it will create a permanent underclass of three-day weekenders. The people who take the day off in name only and keep working will end up prospering in direct proportion to their dogged unwillingness to join the club, leave work at work, and take the damn day off like everybody else.

Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. Follow Mark on Twitter.

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