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How You Can Get a 4-Day Workweek

Here’s how to persuade your boss or find a new job that allows you to have a weekday off

posted by Richard Eisenberg, September 5, 2013 More by this author

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Richard Eisenberg is the senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Assistant Managing Editor for the site. Follow him on Twitter @richeis315.


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My Labor Day blog post last week, “It’s High Time for the 4-Day Workweek,” seems to have struck a nerve.
 
A flock of tweets responding to the post said things like “way overdue” and “absolutely it’s time” and “yes, please.” Andrew Celentano (@taxonophilia) of the Melrose Asset Group business-consulting firm in Winchester, Mass., applauded the idea of a four-day workweek, tweeting that “it would help address unemployment and people could spend more time participating in their communities.”
 
Now I’d like to offer advice on how you can get a four-day workweek — either by talking to your current boss or by finding a firm or nonprofit that embraces the concept.
 
(MORE: How to Reboot Your Energy: Don’t Work So Hard)
 
The tips come from workflex experts I interviewed and from my conversation with Jason Fried, the innovative founder and CEO of the Chicago software firm 37signals, which lets its employees who’ve been there at least a year work day-day, 32-hour weeks from May through October. (“In a colder climate, there’s not much to do on a three-day weekend during the winter,” Fried says.)
 
Getting a 4-Day Week Where You Work
 
Convincing your boss to let you work four, not five days, can be tricky — especially if no one else there is doing it.
 
Managers typically don’t like to make special arrangements for employees, because doing so adds to their … well, management duties. Some instinctively go into “well, if I do it for you, I have to do it for everyone” mode. Then there’s the fear that if you’ll be working fewer than five days a week, you won’t get your job done (even if you’ll be working four 10-hour days and putting in 40 hours a week).
 
That said, staffers in their 50s and 60s are frequently well-positioned to arrange four-day weeks, says Pat Katepoo, the Kaneohe, Hawaii-based head of Work Options, a firm that helps employees negotiate flexible schedules.
 
“They often have more tenure at their jobs than younger employees, so there’s a built-in trust level with their managers,” she says.
 
(MORE: It's High Time for a 4-Day Workweek)

Katepoo’s site has a helpful three-question quiz to gauge your chances of getting a four-day workweek approved. (Incidentally, when Katepoo worked full-time at a nonprofit clinic, she negotiated a four-day workweek that cut her hours by 20 percent but let her keep 95 percent of her salary and full benefits.)
 
The key to getting a four-day schedule, says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, is to make a strong business case for it.
 
Here’s what to do to try to get one where you work:
 
Do a “climate check.” That’s the term I heard from Jessica DeGroot of the Third Path Institute, a Philadelphia-based group that aims to help employees lead “integrated” lives.
 
It means: Assess whether your employer and manager are comfortable with unconventional work ideas. You’ll have a better chance if they are and a tougher time if they’re not.
 
(MORE: Forget Leaning In, Let’s Talk About Leaning Out)
 
Be prepared to answer "How will your work get done?" That’s the first question your boss will ask when you suggest switching to four days, says Katepoo.
 
Your proposal should lay out how you’ll remain as productive as you are now, the ways your assignments will be completed on time, and why the employer won’t suffer a whit.
 
Take baby steps. Instead of asking for a four-day week every week, request a less drastic approach.
 
“Say to your manager, ‘Can I work four days one week a month so I can show you that I’ll get as much done as I do now?’” says Fried.
 
Then, once you prove your productivity hasn’t suffered, work out an arrangement to gradually take more four-day weeks.
 
Alternatively, propose a three-month pilot. That way, your boss will be less fearful about committing to a four-day workweek indefinitely. “It’s hard to turn the idea down when you say, ‘Let’s try it out,’” says Galinsky.
 
A three-month trial period will also give you both time to iron out any kinks, so the two of you will be enthusiastic about making this your regular schedule once the pilot ends.
 
Leave the “why” out of your pitch. Katepoo recommends not telling your manager the reason you want an extra day to yourself unless you're asked. Your day-off plans could come off as trivial (“I want three-day weekends”) or your boss might feel that he or she would need to offer four-day workweeks to everyone with similar personal needs (“I need to take care of my dad”).
 
“Just present the proposal on its own merits,” she says. That way, your boss won’t need to make a judgment call about whether your reason justifies a day off every week.
 
Get clarity about the “fifth day.” Make sure your manager and you agree on how “off” you’ll be on your idle weekday. “It’s important to define boundaries about your accessibility,” says Katepoo. If you don’t, your colleagues and managers might feel free to contact you on the days when they’re working but you (theoretically) aren’t.
 
For more tips on negotiating a four-day workweek, I recommend three resources you can access online. Each includes templates and smart advice.
 
They are: The Workoptions.com “Compressed Workweek Proposal Planning Package” ($29.95; you'd use it to work 40 hours in four days) and “Part-time Proposal Package” ($29.95; for a four-day schedule with fewer than 40 hours) and the free “Workflex Employee Toolkit” from the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.
 
Finding an Employer Who’ll Let You Have a 4-Day Week
 
Maybe you’d like to get a job where you’ll be able to work a four-day week. That’s possible, but not terribly easy because few employers advertise positions with four-day schedules, and fewer still offer shortened workweeks to all their staffers. 
 
“A four-day workweek is a bit of a ‘needle in haystack’ search,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of Flexjobs.com in Boulder, Colo.
 
Instead, you’ll need to look for job openings with “flexible schedules” or “alternative schedules.” You may be able to find some on the websites of employers where you’d like to work.
 
A few websites specialize in these types of postings. Two national sites are Flexjobs.com ($14.95 a month) and Hourly.com. For professional jobs in the New York City metropolitan area, there’s FlexibleResources.com. Washington, D.C., part-time professional jobs are listed at FlexforceProfessionals.com and Momentum Resources (which also has flexible, full-time positions and positions in the Richmond, Virg., area).
 
You might also want to knock on the virtual doors of businesses and nonprofits that show up on “great places to work” lists, since they may be open to the idea. Examples:
 
The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility An annual list from the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management. Roughly 300 companies of various sizes just won the 2013 honor.
 
Best 100 Companies for Flexible Jobs This list, from Flexjobs.com, has firms from its 26,000-company database, sliced by state or 50 career categories. The companies offer part-time, telecommuting, freelance and flexible working options.
 
Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For This annual list, produced by the Great Places to Work Institute, surveys employees at corporations with more than 1,000 U.S. staffers.
 
Glassdoor’s Best Places To Work Glassdoor.com, a respected site filled with information about companies and salaries, produces this annual list of 50 large firms. It’s based on feedback that employees have shared on Glassdoor in the past year.
 
Tips for Job Seekers

When applying for a job that hasn’t said anything about a four-day workweek, Sutton Fell says, don’t mention your desire for that schedule in your cover letter. “The HR person may view that as something they don’t want to deal with,” she says.
 
Instead, wait to bring up the subject in the job interview, and even then, not very early in your conversation. “You want to prove your merit first,” says Brooke Dixon, co-founder and chief executive of Hourly.com. “You can have the discussion about flexible time after that.”
 
Conversely, if an employer’s posting mentions a “flexible schedule” and a possible four-day workweek, Sutton Fell advises you show your enthusiasm about it during the interview. “That extra passion can help,” she says.
 
Ideally you’ll land a job at a place that lets you work four days a week and have a boss like 37signals’ Jason Fried, who'll be glad to accommodate you.
 
“I think having the four-day workweek helps us attract the kind of person we want — not a workaholic, but someone who enjoys work and life outside of work,” he says.
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