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Thursday is the New Friday: The Four-Day Workweek is Coming

rainbow unicorn on a blue couch sitting in a factory----wish you could see this

In the corporate world, particularly in manufacturing, the idea of a four-day workweek can seem as fanciful as a unicorn. But is it really? Let’s dive into this intriguing concept, particularly focusing on the manufacturing sector in America, a realm traditionally resistant to such radical changes due to its nature of work.

The four-day work week has gained traction globally, thanks in part to successful trials in various sectors, and is particularly appealing to younger workers who value a more employee-centered work environment. If forced to return to a five-day week, over 40% of workers indicated they would expect significant raises. This highlights the growing shift towards valuing work-life balance and mental health in the workforce, though the feasibility of a four-day workweek varies significantly across industries.

But manufacturing has been slow on the uptake. Why? The challenges are unique: the physical presence required, the continuous production cycles, and the lack of remote work options. Yet, as a staffing company that ensures our own employees strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance, we see potential in this model, even in our specialty field of manufacturing.

A case in point was made in a recent NPR article about Advanced RV, a luxury motorhome manufacturer in Ohio, which successfully adopted this model. Initially, there was skepticism. Workers like Bill Kowalcic wondered if they could maintain productivity. A year and a half later, the answer is a resounding yes. The key? Finding shortcuts and time savers without compromising quality.

The global trial, led by 4 Day Week Global, suggests that reducing hours while maintaining pay can lead to more energy and efficiency in the workplace. This isn’t about doing less; it’s about maximizing productivity within a compressed timeframe. Advanced RV’s journey illustrates that even in the realm of manufacturing, where the stakes are high and the work physically demanding, this model can work.

The initiative’s success hinges on several factors: a willingness to take risks, trust in the workforce, creativity, and open-mindedness. CEO Mike Neundorfer’s decision to shift to a 32-hour week without pay cuts was a gamble, but it paid off. The company has nearly recovered the initial dip in productivity and has seen a boost in employee satisfaction.

But how does this apply to the wider manufacturing sector, especially larger, more traditional firms? It requires a radical rethinking of operations. We must ask: Are there tools or processes that can be optimized? Can we redistribute tasks based on speed and skill, thereby enhancing efficiency?

The biggest hurdle, however, is cultural. In an industry that often values time spent on the floor over actual output, shifting mindsets is crucial. It’s about quality over quantity and results over hours. This shift can lead to a more motivated, focused workforce, reducing burnout and improving overall well-being.

For larger manufacturers, this might mean a phased approach, perhaps starting with one department or a pilot group. It’s about measuring productivity in outcomes, not hours. The focus should be on what gets done, not how long it takes to do it.  Some have taken to four ten-hour workdays, and bringing in a weekend crew to run three days of twelve-hour shifts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

two young men sitting in a factory in their blue overalls enjoying sandwiches on a break

An article earlier this year highlighted a manufacturing company that had previously tried a four-day workweek a decade ago without success. However, they revisited the idea due to requests from their deskless workers. The management considered shifting to four 10-hour shifts per week, with employees working either Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday. However, several challenges arose:

  1. Unpopularity of Tuesday-Friday Shifts: No one wanted the Tuesday to Friday shift, but the company needed Friday coverage as they ship products five days a week.
  2. Shift Overlap and Equipment Limitations: The day and night shifts overlapped by 10 minutes, and there wasn’t enough equipment to extend shifts by two hours.
  3. Overtime and Safety Concerns: Extending workdays to 10 hours raised safety concerns due to the physical nature of the job. The company was particularly worried about safety in the additional hours, as the work is physically demanding.

After two months, the company, O.C. Tanner, reverted to its previous system. Despite the unsuccessful attempt, the effort demonstrated to workers that the company valued their input and was willing to explore new work arrangements. This approach underscored the company’s willingness to innovate and adapt, key elements in fostering a positive company culture.

A six-month pilot program in the U.S. and Ireland showed promising results for most companies, with 90% not wanting to return to a five-day week. Despite these benefits, which include improved worker health and productivity, some industries, like manufacturing and service, face unique challenges.

American Plastic Toys Inc. tried the four-day workweek by extending work hours across four days but found a decline in productivity beyond the standard 7.5 to 8-hour shift. Company President John Gessert noted the approach led to a net loss in activity per hour and was physically taxing for employees. The need to ship products five days a week and maintain equipment operations in their factories further complicated the transition.

CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Laura Rea Dickey pointed out the difficulty of adopting such a schedule amidst staffing shortages and the need for maximized productivity. In such industries, reducing work days can lead to income loss for staff dependent on tips. Some restaurants however, aren’t going to go down that road at all, simply eliminating the human element.

Daniel Hamermesh, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Texas and author of a new study about the rise of the four-day workweek, argues that workers are not 100% productive during each minute of the workday anyway and that there are very few jobs where workers can produce the same amount in total while working 20% less. “If a 32-hour week were widespread, the U.S. would produce less, would have lower GDP, and lower living standards,” Hamermesh told FOX Business. “No problem, if people want more leisure and are willing to forego some income. But we can’t have more leisure time—less work—and keep the same income. We can’t get something for nothing.”

Changing to a four-day workweek isn’t going to be easy, and it’s going to shake things up a bit economically. But let’s face it – manufacturing has got to figure this out. The inevitability of this shift is underscored by the preferences of the younger workforce; without a meaningful work-life balance, we risk seeing a mass exodus from the manufacturing sector in the coming years. As we stand at this crossroads, it’s essential to recognize that adapting to a shorter workweek could be the key to sustaining our industry’s future. They want a life outside of work, and who can blame them? So, maybe it’s time we seriously consider making Thursday the new Friday. It’s not just a catchy phrase; it could be what keeps our factories humming with happy, motivated workers in the years to come.