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Firms squeeze the workweek

The rise of four-day weeks promises energy savings and more productivity, but only in some cases.

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Scott Wallace

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Ask Roberta Chinsky Matuson about compressing the workweek into four 10-hour days and her response is enthusiastic. "I would rather work four days than five," says Ms. Matuson, who once spent nearly nine months on a compressed schedule as a human resource director in Massachusetts.

Julie Lenzer Kirk, who has also worked a compressed week and has approved it for employees, offers another perspective. "When they're done right they can work well, but if they're not managed correctly they can be tough on the business," she says. "It can be more of a hassle than a blessing."

Their comments reflect the divergent viewpoints employees and employers hold as more companies adopt, or at least consider, alternative schedules. By squeezing five eight-hour days into four 10-hour days, workers save one day of commuting – a growing consideration as gas prices have soared.

"Employers are doing it because it's in their own best interests," says Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass. "If they can help employees reduce costs and they're not losing productivity, then why not?"

The 2008 National Study of Employers, released by the Families and Work Institute, finds that 38 percent of US firms allow a compressed workweek for some employees. Only 8 percent permit it for all or most employees.

This summer, Utah became the first state to institute a mandatory four-day week for most state workers. The change affects 17,000 employees, about 80 percent of the state workforce.

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