Monday, December 02, 2019

The Other Case for a Four-Day Work Week

The usual case I see is that people "deserve" fewer hours and more time off, as with this column. But jobs aren't about what people "deserve." They're about supply, demand, cost, etc.

Back in the late '80s or early '90s, the factory I worked at had a suggestion box, and a program that offered the employee 20% of whatever he or she saved the company in the first year his or her suggestion was implemented.

I suggested a four-day work week, and made an economic case for it.

This plant built boat trailers, and one place that it could save money by going from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days, two shifts was with the cost of running the giant oven that was used to dry the paint on the trailers.

Working two 8-hour shifts (17 hours total due to a half-hour lunch break), the oven was turned off for three hours at the end of the night shift and turned back on four hours before day shift started to get it heated back up, which used a lot of electricity. With only three hours between shifts, it could just be left on and stay hot. My back of the envelope calculation was that this saved the plant about $106,000 a year. That didn't count the costs that were saved by a full per week of not having to have every light in the plant on, etc.

Then there were the drivers who transported trailers to the boat plants. The distances to two of the three plants was such that in an eight-hour day, a driver could make two trips. In a ten-hour day, three trips. So 12 trips per four-day week (unless the management wanted to pay overtime) or 10 per five-day week.

And of course the workers got three-day weekends -- or, if an overtime shift was needed, it at least didn't cut into their two-day weekends.

My suggestion was adopted (a month after I made it, even though fellow employees had been grumbling for it for years, so yeah, it was my argument that made the case) ... but I was never paid the bounty for it, and when I asked, was told I wouldn't be. From what I understand, the plant manager sold the idea to the company owner as his own. And after six years of never getting caught in a lay-off, I suddenly did. So I went and found a different job.

There's probably a lesson there on how to go about making suggestions. I probably should have sent the entire argument to the company owner directly instead of putting it in the suggestion box.

Anyway, in many specific cases, a four-day work week makes business sense, and it seems to me that's a more likely sale to business owners than "workers deserve more time off."

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