INTRO FEATURE: Change of Pace | Isabel White
Amidst the hustle and bustle of a new school year, as students and teachers begrudgingly begin to wake up before the sunrise and overcome the exhaustion that comes with slowly transitioning back to structured, in-person work, it’s only natural that rumors have been passed around of a drastic change in the system. Frustration has led to realizations, and realizations have led to a proposed solution: a four-day workweek.
This national frustration has been brewing as a result of the realization that the toxic “hustle culture” of the United States has created an unhealthy work-life balance that could be reversed if employees are given the opportunity for more downtime. More than anything, the pandemic has served as the catalyst for this epiphany. After all, working from home often meant working fewer hours or maneuvering one’s hours similar to what the four-day work week would entail: ten-hour days for four days a week, rather than eight hours a day for five.
Although this may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, a similar change occurred several decades ago in America’s past. Before the early 1940s, working six or even seven days a week in factories for upwards of 10 to 12 hours was the norm — sparking many to believe that, if the system was challenged successfully in the past, why not again?
Of course, the mere suggestion of any major change brings about skepticism from a wide range of employers and employees. Contrary to what you may think, many don’t believe they would be as productive with a limited amount of extended days in the office. These longer days may mean spillover into vacation days, where employees spend half their day finishing uncompleted work from the week prior. In addition, career fields that are required to remain open 24/7 (firemen, policemen, ER nurses, etc.) would need to hire more employees to fill the gaps. This would only further the nationwide employment gap.
However, previous research cited by 4 Day Work Week Global may quell these fears. Employees who participated in their trial study reported happier, healthier, and more balanced lives, as well as increased motivation. Less burnout causes higher retention of employees — providing a solution, not an irritant, to the Great Resignation of 2020 and 2021 (the upward trend of employees who are voluntarily leaving their jobs since the start of the pandemic). Similarly, many of those who made the switch to a four-day workweek stated that more downtime actually caused them to take fewer sick days, as appointments such as doctor visits, which required time off work in the past, were not an issue anymore.
Many of the studies conducted regarding a four-day workweek have centered on possible benefits and drawbacks in the workplace in particular. However, should the entire country's workers begin to transition to such a structure, it is only natural that schools follow suit. While it is important to note that a study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis states no difference in academic achievement among students with either four or five days of in-person instruction, this possible change still comes with a slew of both thankful supporters and adamant opponents.
Contrary to its entire purpose, longer, limited days allow for no work/play balance during the four days of instruction, as students will be unable to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities after school. In addition, most students reported spending their extra day off by themselves — 79% to be exact (Fatherly). These two factors could further aggravate mental health issues as a result of the decreased social interaction.
Similarly, children from food-insecure families rely on the free breakfast and lunch many schools have begun to provide (check out Sophie H’s article for more info!). Another day these families must provide meals for their children, therefore, could impact their finances detrimentally. Especially for parents with younger children, finding childcare for their children on their days off proves to be much more expensive than simply sending them to public school — causing many to quit their jobs entirely. According to a 2019 study conducted by Jason Ward, a four-day school week decreased the rate of employment of mothers with children ages 5 to 13 by 11%. This has the potential to increase income disparity rates that have already been increasing steadily for the past several years.
But, like the workforce, every downside to the four-day workweek has been met with several positives. Students attending schools participating in such studies have also expressed more time for sleep and increased participation in extracurricular activities. What’s more, there are significantly fewer students receiving discipline referrals; for example, a 73% decrease in the Chattooga County School District in Georgia. Further benefits to schools include increased attendance rates and financial benefits — an enticing factor to many underfunded school districts. Utility bills also decrease as a result of less in-person time in school, and less food has to be bought when there are only four lunches in a week instead of five. Overall, less stress has been a projected and achieved goal for schools that either are currently considering or have made the switch to a four-day school week.
Considering such contradictory evidence, all sides of the argument have raised the question of whether or not this rumor is just that — a rumor. A decrease in political power and an increase in political polarization since our last major workweek shakeup almost a century ago may mean the government simply does not have enough influence to implement such a policy on a federal level. However, this does not mean a four-day workweek will never occur on a local, county, or possibly even state level. The choice is yours: would cramming five work days into four create more or less stress in your life?
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