Friday, January 13, 2012

The Case against a Four-Day Work Week

No disrespect to Jay Love, but I disagree.

He raves in his recent article in Inc. about the benefits of the four-day week in his role as CEO of Slingshot SEO. That this policy works well in his current environment is wonderful. I disagree that the concept is scalable to any company size or sector.

Early in my career when my level of responsibility was admittedly very low I heard about the much coveted four-day work week. It made sense. I was young, hungry and single, and the thought of working four 10s or even 12s followed by a long weekend maintained a magical grip on my psyche.

As my skills grew, so did the responsibilities which I take seriously. In a variety of roles at companies large and very small, I watched that magical grip go the way of my belief in Santa Claus.

Taking Issue

At the highest level, Love should identify that his audience is primarily small technology companies. In 10 years as a hiring manager, finding strong talent that also fits nicely into the group dynamic remained a challenge for me despite the “cool” company culture in both cases. [I now work for myself, so I don’t have this issue at the moment.]

You’re crazy if you think I am against a three-day weekend! I just don’t see how productivity can be sustained at the same level as before the policy took effect.

  1. Life. Just because you designate Friday off doesn’t mean a child won’t come down with a stomach bug while in kindergarten on Monday, or that the replacement for that dishwasher that ceased to live up to its name can be delivered on any day or than Thursday. Forget about doctor appointments, your trunk latch breaking, your parents or an old college buddy showing up unexpectedly on their way to Sedona, your power going out … any day of the week. On the work side, you can include the pressures of quarter end, the annual audit, the implementation of and training on a new CRM, and innumerable unexpected developments that pay no heed to the three-day weekend.

    Life doesn’t conform to the four-day work week. Figure one such event every other week – especially if you’re a parent -- within the Monday through Thursday timeframe. Half of your now 10-hour day evaporates, is rendered significantly less than productive. Sticking to the four-day stricture, that’s 13 full days off each year. The article makes no mention of Slingshot SEO’s vacation policy, but most workers in most exempt roles agonize over the conflict between serving unavoidable life events, taking a modest vacation, and of course getting the job done.

  2. Collaboration. Putting all of your eggs in four daily baskets versus five removes 20 percent of the traditional opportunity to meet with colleagues to make progress on projects large and small. Factor in people’s travel schedules, the aforementioned life events, customer-imposed deadlines and fires and the four-day week appears in practice to have a negative impact on overall productivity. Let’s add the wildcard of an employee who, feeling entitled, would rather take off Monday than Friday. It happens. Sometimes the employee is incredibly valuable as a star performer and you must accommodate or face a long backfill/training process. Imagine one of those employees on each team within the company. Which brings me to …

  3. Psychology. Exceptions happen. Even within an organization – I’ve seen this first hand in several significant cases – policies deemed to benefit all on paper are implemented with varying management commitment based on business demands. Love mentions retail or customer service as two examples of tricky coordination. The fact is, these sorts of functions – namely sales and support – exist in most organizations. The risk of the four-day week here is obvious … resentment within teams and cultural resistance. “Why does that team get x and we don’t?” This is real. It happens all the time. And it is counterproductive.

    I disagree that this is “the age of recruiting the best talent to your team.” Organizations of all types have always sought the best talent, from police to school districts, from Fortune 500 sales and marketing departments to the start-up where everyone wears 12 hats. This “age” is no different.

  4. Research? I am unclear in reading Love’s article where the concept of a day of research comes into play. He asks, “How much more innovative and exciting would your business be if every single team member spent one full day each week devoted to research?”

    Is this day of research to take place on the fifth day? The day off? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Also, only at the most coveted companies – a Google, a Facebook, a Zappos – would even 70 percent of the employees voluntarily sit still for a full day to research when nearly all employees are faced with multiple, competing deadlines in their regular work. “Oh, I’ll do some research this afternoon right after I wrap up this proposal, answer these 12 emails and jump on that conference call with the client.” Poof! Research day disappears.

    In another example, Love mentions the Friday repairman visit. I bring that up as counter intuitive to the day of research concept and cite my first point above, Life. “Well, I’m supposed to hit the books today, but we’ve got a family bar-b-que tomorrow, it’s a nice day and I’d really like to replace that rickety fence gate.” How many of the employees within an organization will honestly have the discipline to shut out the world’s demands and focus on research on The Fifth Day?

    I’m all for telecommuting! Several years ago when gas prices passed $4.00 per gallon, I created a work-from-home policy for my team wherein they could pick two days from Monday through Thursday to stay in their pajamas. (We had mandatory company meetings and many team-building events on Fridays that I believed were important for the team to experience.) But I only allowed this once the team member had been with the company for at least six months – to build relationships inside and outside the team, to complete training, and to give me an opportunity to evaluate their performance – and I reserved the right to revoke this privilege individually if the quality of work appeared to suffer.

I’m not saying Love’s experience isn’t valid or that the concept doesn’t work. I only suggest that that in corporate America, non-profits and public sector institutions its application is limited and could lead to more challenges than it’s worth. I am sorry to be a naysayer here. Love’s enthusiasm for the idea is palpable. In my experience, I still lean toward the traditional work week, and believe a properly managed “unlimited vacation” policy would serve the organization more effectively from both a recruiting and a productivity point of view.

Have you worked at an organization offering the four-day work week? How productive … really productive enough to balance your client, project and life demands … do you think you would be in your current role in this environment?

Thanks for reading!

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