Get Ready For Four-day Work Weeks

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 06, 2008
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There’s a lot of excitement around the Big Square Building on South Beretania Street, where mostly everyone is hoping that the idea of a compressed workweek will be embraced by government and union leaders.

The idea is not completely new to Hawaii. Prior to the arrival of Police Chief Boisse Correa, the Honolulu Police Department had instituted a compressed workweek where employees worked a four-day week in 10-hour shifts. It was, if you recall, very popular with police officers.

New Chief Correa didn’t like the idea, however, because of an unintended consequence: Police officers were using the extra day off to enhance their revenue stream. The chief, rightfully so, believed that a 10-hour shift put not only the officers at risk, but the public also. So the experiment was scrapped, much to the chagrin of the police officer’s union.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, Utah is charging headlong into a one-year pilot program highlighting the compressed workweek in government. There are some unintended consequences. Among them is the pressure on employees to arrange for extended child-care and elder-care services. But there aren’t many powerful unions in the state of Utah and therefore not much resistance to the longer work hours.

In certain occupations, the extra two hours are not likely to cause unbearable conditions, additional fatigue or heightened stress levels. The concern is how to meet the public’s insatiable demand for services and information.

But actually the public’s need for information could be handled by the Internet, other digitally enhanced instruments and maybe even robots. In some cases, using flex time schedules to cover the entire week is not insurmountable. Employees can take off Mondays and work Fridays, for example, so everyone in the work force benefits from the extra day off.

Hawaii always has been very flexible with schedules and alternative starting times. Some old-timers will remember the “Uku Pau” workdays. In this plan, you start early and, when you finish your chores, you are free to leave work. It was great for workers who picked up garbage. They start at 5 a.m. and were working on their second job and income by noon. The postal workers on the Neighbor Islands had similar deals once upon a time.

The premise of the compressed workweek is primarily focused on the younger work force. It’s no secret that they are eager to find employment that allows them to spend more time with family and friends. The days of the Organizational Man - the employee who worked at the same job from high school to retirement - are no longer the norm. There is little loyalty in most organizations simply because there is little loyalty toward employees, so there is a lot of movement between jobs in the younger segment of the work force.

There is little question that many companies that embrace the compressed workweek idea will attract a lot more younger employees, and the older members of the work force will use the extra day to take care of their parents or baby-sitting chores.

A word of caution: Not to put a damper on the enthusiasm for a compressed workweek and more time off, but working 10-hour days isn’t easy. The extra two hours are likely to tax a lot of employees who have demanding jobs. To older folks, it might be a good idea to learn how to conduct all of your personal business online, 24 hours a day. If you are not computer literate, now would be a good time to learn, because when the compressed workweek craze hits Hawaii, that will be how you will get things done.

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