Lately, buzz is gathering around a new compromise in the business world: the four-day workweek. Working a 9-5 from Monday to Friday can be downright exhausting, leaving little time for family, chores or other personal pursuits. The business world, while normally quite conservative, has been considering cutting man-hours to allow their employees more free time and provide some balance. This new wave should be seriously considered, not only for its general psychological benefits, but for allowing more individuals with disabilities to work and participate in the economy.
Portland tech firm Treehouse has notably adopted a four-day workweek for its entire staff, from CEO Ryan Carson down. On his blog he attributes these successes at his company to the four-day workweek:
- Recruiting is easy (we still pay full salaries and offer a very generous benefits package).
- Retention is easier. One of the team told me he regularly gets emails from Facebook trying to win him over and his answer is always the same: “Do you work a four-day week yet?”
- Morale is boosted. On Mondays everyone is fresh and excited–not jaded from working over the weekend.
- I get to spend 50% more time with my kids than almost all other dads (three days versus two). Fifty percent. It’s insane. For those on the team without kids, they get to spend this extra 50% on their hobbies or loved ones.
There are benefits to the employer, who values relaxed, positive employees who love working at the company and give their best work in return, in addition to paying slightly less for hours worked. The four-day workers still have full benefits packages without being subjected to part-time exceptions. It is an innovative response to the world of stress in the corporate realm of 45-hour weeks at the office, with no escape from email and calls at home, or “at-will” appointments, which grant no barrier between personal and professional lives. The matter of work-life balance is increasingly coming under scrutiny. Stress is widely acknowledged as becoming a public health concern. Cutting back hours into a ‘compressed’ workweek is also a logical response to rising costs. A four-day week option is offered to some employees at 43% of companies, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
However, this number could definitely be higher, and be made available to a larger share of employees. Workplaces across the country, and around the world, may benefit from considering parallel schedules for part-time or reduced-hour employees. This is especially helpful for those who need to spend more time at home, like those dealing with disability or other medical limitations. Making accommodations for part-time employees and reduced-hour schedules would be a revolutionary step toward giving folks with disabilities the opportunities to work, earn an income, and achieve economic empowerment by claiming a professional stake. The vast majority of employers create positions with full-time requirements that essentially make employees give their lives to the office at the expense of much else. The business world may be trying to cut costs, and thus squeeze as much labor out of as few employees as possible, but this approach does not consider the human cost, or the matter of inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
Workplaces should be a place where you don’t have to hide an illness for fear of being sacked, but an environment where employers can accommodate changing circumstances and still have the employee’s skills at their disposal. This can be achieved on a planned and coordinated basis with fewer hours. Of course, communication challenges may emerge from having mixed schedules in a workplace, but there are so many options for online collaboration like Basecamp and Trello. Good workplace communication doesn’t even need to take place in a physical space, but through apps utilizing the cloud. In the Information Age, where work is more project and gig focused, the full-time work model can seem, at times, indulgent. Employers don’t want to pay for employees to sit around and waste time on Tumblr or Reddit while on the clock, while employees hate feeling like they hardly get personal time. Scaling back work demands and creating models for including people of different abilities can contribute to a better, more diverse, more vibrant workplace that can have greater power than a homogenous closed circuit.
Many think that ‘disability’ automatically gets someone Social Security benefits, but the application process can take time and even be a battle for individuals with many chronic illnesses that do not yet have widespread recognition. What’s more is these benefits are insufficient to meet the cost of living in many areas, especially in cities. Employment is an economic necessity in the U.S. for individuals with disabilities to earn enough to get by. ‘Disability’ doesn’t get people a free pass, or whisked away to all-inclusive homes. Physical misfortune should not force every individual with a disability onto their parents’ or sibling’s couch. Economic empowerment is critical to the disabled population. Adopting four-day workweeks and parallel part-time schedules would do wonders for including differently abled folks.
Having the opportunity to contribute to society while padding your wallet builds up a sense of self-respect. We may struggle with self-loathing and depression after going from a normal, busy way of life to suddenly landing in a wheelchair or at home on bed rest every day. Some disabilities mean you cannot work at all, while others can work a little bit and some others may be ready to stake their claim in the American Dream. Being included and respected in the workplace is key to being respected in society at large and earning an even higher degree of dignity.