Take this job and — work fewer days

 

Graduation is officially in the books. Professors have closed up their offices and headed out. Students have moved out of the dorm and headed back home; some have started summer jobs; and some traveled to Europe. A select few are contemplating the consequences of signing up for a summer class.

While the campus may not look quite as busy, those left in their offices will tell you another story. The work continues as staff prepare for the next crop of incoming freshmen and the return of those already enrolled. It’s a continuous cycle that keeps folks hammering away on their keyboards while trying to work in a few days of vacation here and there.

There is one difference this summer, however. Perhaps you have already heard, but Wayland Baptist University is experimenting with a 4-day work week for the next two months.

Starting on May 22 and running through July 21, Wayland offices will be open from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and closed on Friday. There are some exceptions, but we won’t go into all the detail.

Facing a new schedule, however, causes one to ponder the benefits of a shorter work week. As it stands, Wayland’s work week is based on a 37 ¾ hour schedule. Offices are typically open from 8:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:15 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Friday. The new 4-day week will maintain the 37+ hour schedule as employees adjust their lunch times accordingly, while giving employees a three-day weekend.

For the university, the 4-day week provides an opportunity to cut energy consumption and save on cost. With offices and buildings closed an additional day during the week, energy consumption will be significantly reduced. In a day when green initiatives are of vital importance, this move fits with the university’s goal to be good stewards of creation as well as budget conscious.

But how does this work for individuals?

There is increasingly more study being done about the productivity, health and wellness levels of workers in countries and regions where the shorter work week is the norm. And surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, those studies show that the shorter work week increases productivity while improving the health and wellness of the employees. Go figure – happy employees mean healthy and productive employees.

Healthline.com says shaving a few hours a day — or a full day — off of the work-week could lead to physical and mental health improvements. In teaching a human resource management course, I used the example of WBU’s shortened Fridays when discussing job perks and scenarios with the class. The shortened Friday came about years ago in exchange for offices staying open an additional hour on Tuesday. Administration found that the additional hour on Tuesday was of no real benefit, so they dropped that job requirement … but didn’t dare try to add the additional hour back on Friday afternoon. Employees are still quite fond of starting their weekend one hour earlier.

Mexican billionaire tycoon, Carlos Slim, takes it one step further, saying employees and organizations would benefit from a 3-day work week. He says this would improve the quality of life for employees and create a more productive work force.

We are lucky to work for a university that does allow freedoms within the work week. We do have paid time off and other holidays that allow for family time and chance to recharge the batteries, so-to-speak. We do benefit from a shorter work week – just try forcing employees to stay until 5 p.m. on Fridays and see what happens. It’s only one hour, but it’s a huge hour.

The standard 40-hour work week became the norm in 1940s. Nothing much has changed except that now 40% of American workers spend more than 50 hours a week on the job. And we wonder why Americans have a high rate of heart disease, obesity and other ailments.

A 4-day work week may not become an accepted practice for years. Eventually, it will probably catch on as the younger generations start to understand the importance of a work-life balance that has escaped their predecessors. As far as Wayland is concerned, the summer experiment may or may not generate the desired results, but either way, it will be interesting to see how it works out.

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About the author: Jonathan Petty holds degrees in communications and management. He currently serves as the director of communications for Wayland Baptist University.