Four Day Workweek Strikes A Chord With Readers

Is a four day/10 hour a day workweek a good idea for the federal workforce? Congressman Steny Hoyer raised the issue recently and OPM responded with a letter rejecting the idea. FedSmith readers generally like the idea. Here are the results of last week’s survey.

A topic that has been of interest to readers in recent days concerns the possibility of a four-day workweek for federal employees rather than the traditional 8-hour day, five days a week. (See Can Major Changes in Government Happen Quickly and Easily?)

After Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wrote to OPM asking the agency to give consideration to the idea to save gas and energy, OPM rejected the idea. OPM wrote back to the Congressman: “We have concluded that such a proposal would be detrimental to the Federal Government’s ability to provide essential services, would weaken national security safeguards, and impact recruitment and retention efforts within the Federal workforce.” OPM also said that “Mandated 4-day/10-hours-a-day workweek could make it extremely difficult for some federal agencies to provide the American taxpayer with critical services….”

There is obviously some confusion about the Congressman’s proposal. As noted in the quote from OPM above, the government’s personnel agency does not like the idea of a “mandated 4-day/10-hours-a-day workweek.”

But, according to Congressman Hoyer’s Press Secretary, “OPM”s letter misrepresents his proposal – he is not prescribing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mandate, but asking that agencies explore the option of transitioning more of the workforce to a 4-day schedule, as well as other alternative schedules that would have a myriad of benefits for the workforce, the government and potentially the environment.”

So, while the Congressman’s office says the intent was not a “mandated” change to the traditional federal workweek, we copied the OPM phraseology from the agency’s response to the Congressman to check on how federal employees would react to this idea.

Many readers (approximately 1000 readers sent in written comments in addition to voting in the survey) do not want to work the four day, 10 hours a day workweek. The reasons given were often similar to those cited in the OPM response. Many readers have personal reasons for not wanting to work 10 hours a day; some readers see a problem with providing adequate customer service with a mandated four day workweek. And, not surprisingly, some readers commented that if the four day workweek is not mandated, there will not be much of an energy savings if the federal office space stays open, heated or cooled for at least five days a week.

Here is a quick summary of reader views on the four day workweek.

1.  Do you support a mandated “4-day/10-hours-a-day” workweek for federal employees? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 1447 55% 2613
no 1015 39% 2613
undecided 151 6% 2613
2.  Would a mandated 4-day workweek impact recruitment and retention of employees in federal agencies? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 1236 47% 2613
no 1046 40% 2613
undecided 331 13% 2613
3.  Would a 4-day workweek as envisioned by Congressman Hoyer and OPM reduce gasoline consumption? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 1914 73% 2613
no 473 18% 2613
undecided 226 9% 2613
4.  Would a mandated 4-day workweek have a negative impact on national security or the ability of agencies to provide “the American taxpayer with critical services”? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 663 25% 2612
no 1660 64% 2612
undecided 289 11% 2612

Here is a sampling of representative comments from readers.

A program assistant with HHS in Rockville, MD wrote: “I think the 4 day work week is a wonderful idea whose time has come. It will save millions of dollars in gas, less traffic, less pollution, save in energy and provide employees a day off, which will reduce the use of leave and absenteeism from work.”

An IT specialist with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare services in Baltimore commented: “Allowing employees to work flexiplace 2 days a week would be more beneficial and save on energy/gas consumption. Mandating a four day workweek would definitely not work for my family and many others.”

An EEO manager with DoD in Washington, DC has a problem with a mandatory four day workweek: “A Mandatory 4-day workweek would result in less productivity that would off-set any savings achieved in energy.”

An employee of SSA in Chicago sees a potential problem with the proposal: “We don’t have enough people now to cover vacations and absent employees. Result is that the public waits too long for sevice. The 4 day work week would make things worse.”

An aerospace engineer with DoD in Ogden, Utah likes the idea: “Everybody I know thinks 4/10 is a great idea. I work in an office that has to be either manned or have people on call 7 days a week. I’d be perfectly OK with working odd days, such as Thurs.-Sun. or Fri.-Mon. on the 4/10 to provide coverage.”

A health insurance specialist with CMS in Baltimore had this observation: “That is too long of a work day. By the end of such a long work day, employees would be drained. It leaves those with kids to have our kids at home more hours alone by themselves on those 4 hour days and for those who chose to do it, they can for the agency I work for. It should not be mandatory but I do agree it should be an option.”

A tax examiner with the Treasury Department in Cincinnati offered this analysis: “There is no way a 4 day week would work. It would have to be a 7 day operation. The building I work in would not have room for all the employees to work only 4 days. Some areas have three shifts as it is. There are very few area that have only one shift.”

An executive assistant with the Corporation for National Service in Washington, DC likes the idea: “It would help me to take better care of my parent as a caregiver since the Federal gov’t doesn’t give you leave for this issue. I have to use all my leave for this matter and do not have enough leave to take a vacation which is highly needed.”

A division chief from the USDA in Lancaster, CA said: “I believe the affect would be positive for recruiting.”

An analyst with HHS in Washington, DC analyzed the idea with this summary: “Would the Government be closed on the 4th day? Doubtful. Would schools also go 4-days? And day care centers stay open longer? For positions that don’t require interaction with others, it might work, but that’s a limited subset of positions.”

A health insurance specialist with CMS in Baltimore says the idea would be a personal benefit: “I think this is a wonderful idea especially w/ the high gas prices. This would be a good way to save energy in Fed Buildings by having them closed 3 days per wk. Only using electricity/heat/AC, etc for 4 days instead of 5. It is a win-win situation for the agencies and the workers.”

In short, the idea is a popular one. But, as is apparent from the numerous comments and interpretations of the proposal, the government is large, diverse and agencies have different missions and requirements. At a minimum, creating a four day/10 hour a day workweek would have to be carefully considered by each agency with its unique requirements in mind.

Our thanks to readers for taking the time to vote in this latest survey and a special thanks to those who took the time to send in their written comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47