Is It Time for a Four-Day Work Week?

This shop's employees now work four 10s instead of five 8s. Here are the benefits the shop has seen.

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The first known American instance of a factory adopting a five-day work week was in 1908. Back then, the common work week included at least part of Saturday. But a cotton mill wanted to employ Jewish workers who observed the Sabbath without requiring them to make up their work on Sunday, so it instituted a full two-day weekend for all employees. In other words, the mill shortened the work week to attract employees.

Quality Mould of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, recently changed its own work week, shortening it from five days to four, in part for this same reason.

Quality is the shop featured in this article about cutting tool edge prep. But when I visited the shop to meet with owner and President D.J. Danko, I learned about this other advantageous idea the shop has also embraced. In the past, Quality ran three eight-hour shifts per day for five days per week, but fully staffing that third shift was hard. Mr. Danko gave up the struggle this year, instead organizing employees into two 10-hour shifts that run Monday through Thursday. Since then, he says, production has not gone down, but costs have. Along with getting to offer employees three-day weekends, he says the shop now enjoys all of these benefits as well:

Flexibility. An independent shop sees business go up and down, plus emergency orders. The four-day week provides more flexibility to adapt to these realities, because all of Friday is now available for overtime work.

Momentum. The least productive part of any day is the start or end of a shift. Dividing working hours between four days instead of five reduces the stops and starts. In fact, the shift to 10-hour days has come with a new culture of keeping work moving, he says. Employees no longer take scheduled breaks, but instead eat lunch when the machining cycle provides an opportunity.

Simplicity. Communication among three shifts multiplies the opportunities for confusion. Waste, redundancy and delay have declined now that there are only two shifts.

Power savings. Having the shop empty for an extra day each week means there is one less day for machine tools and compressors to be humming all day long. The difference in utility bills has been noticeable.

The switch wasn’t easy, Mr. Danko says. Seeing the shop vacant on Friday—a day when most other businesses are still working—was particularly hard at first for his father, the shop’s founder.

But manufacturing is unlike other businesses; it has the freedom to move in this direction. For Quality, the goal is not to directly engage consumers, but to produce and ship parts. The work can be done at any time. Thus, Quality’s employees now enjoy more consecutive free time each week. In the competition for labor against other types of businesses, this scheduling freedom is one way in which manufacturers may discover that they have something like an unfair advantage. 

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