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Updated: May 29, 2023 Opinion

Viewpoint: The benefits of a four-day workweek

Burnout. Job dissatisfaction. Work inequities. The Great Resignation. Our U.S. work environment desperately needs a makeover. Although there is no magic pill, one potential solution is a four-day workweek. It was for us at the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester.

A woman smiling with trees in the background
Photo | Courtesy of Liz Hamilton
Liz Hamilton

In March 2020, at the beginning of COVID, my committed team members provided emergency childcare for hospital personnel, first responders, and essential workers. We pivoted to create learning hubs for our youth when schools went remote for the 2020-2021 year. Even when schools reopened the following year, our staff and kids were still required to follow stringent safety protocols, including mask-wearing. The result was many of us felt physically tired, emotionally drained, and often disengaged. I’m sure many can relate, but the difference was while other industries allowed employees to work at home, my team never had that opportunity.

In January 2022, during my annual State of the Club discussion with all employees, they spoke of struggles with work-life balance, admitting working at the club felt overwhelming. They appreciated the incentives and bonuses, but it wasn’t enough. I mentioned the four-day workweek, and studies showed it had increased employees’ job satisfaction and productivity in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden. My team perked up when we began to envision a plan. We aimed for a fall 2022 kickoff. With some legal advice, we were off and running.

Our director of operations worked with the team on a workable schedule: We could not allow the change to hurt our kids or prevent them from receiving services or attention they needed. There were a few hiccups: Approximately 65% of our full-time employees opted in, and communication was not perfect. When several staff became ill the same week, we had to pause the initiative to meet the necessary staff-to-youth ratios.

Both management and team agree the pilot was a success. One important outcome was a major decrease in unexpected call outs. Our team members generally kept to scheduled work days: Even if they had a challenging week, they could remind themselves of their upcoming day off. Staff say having an extra day to decompress, run errands, care for urgent matters, or spend time with family has been invaluable. Staff who participated reported they felt focused, present when working with our kids, and got more accomplished. The decreased work week better promoted an equitable workplace for women, who are still the primary caretakers of children at home.

Our pilot program ended in May, as we are not yet ready (or have the staffing) to continue the four-day workweek during summer, when we provide 15 hours of youth programming a day. We will resume the initiative in the fall. The biggest lesson I learned is the importance of listening to your team members and trying something that, although risky, has the potential for great benefit.

Liz Hamilton is the CEO and executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester.

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