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Port: Would four-day work weeks ... work?

Employers can't give employees more, while getting less, without there being some cause-and-effect ripples across our economy. We're already grappling with inflation, and this push could exacerbate that problem. Which isn't necessarily an argument against it. If we're going to contemplate this - and that ship has sailed already, I think - then we need to be thinking about the costs.

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MINOT, N.D. — “I think there’s lots of opportunity for it."

That's what Dusty Hillebrand, a North Dakota Job Service employee in Grand Forks, had to say about the potential for a four-day work week .

I'm dubious.

I should note, here, that I'm a workaholic. I have been continuously employed since I began a paper route in the fourth grade. In high school, I added a summer job detailing cars, and later a part-time job doing over-the-phone tech support for companies such as Disney and Gateway Computers.

When I was trying to get my writing career off the ground, I would put in 10 hours or so at a day job, and then come home and spend another four or five hours gathering information and writing for SayAnythingBlog.com . When I started doing interviews I'd have to schedule them for lunch breaks or take leave time.

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I once interviewed Sen. John Hoeven , who at the time was governor, while sitting in the driver's seat of my truck in the middle of winter during a break from work. It was frigid - I hadn't had time to warm the truck up beforehand - and at one point he asked me if my teeth were chattering.

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They were, but I lied and said I was chewing gum. I'm not sure he believed me.
These days my wife gets angry at me for taking leave time, only to wander up to my desk and commence work on some piece of writing anyway.

I recognize that my relationship to work may not be the healthiest, but it is my way, and it's through that lens that I see people who only want to work four days a week.

I don't understand it, but I also understand that not everyone needs to live their lives like me. And, hey, not everyone is as lucky as I am to get to do a job they love.

America's younger generations want a different relationship with work. They want more flexibility, less focus on being in the office, and, given growing support for a four-day work week, less time spent on the job.

Setting aside my personal views, we need to be cognizant of two very real implications of this shift in views on work-life balance.

First, let's keep the government out of it. The labor needs of American businesses are varied, and the last thing we need are more rules calcifying the details of employer/employee relationships. We're already seeing businesses reacting in creative ways to attract employees during the pandemic-driven labor shortage. If we leave things alone, that trend will continue, until we find an equilibrium between the new expectations of workers and the needs of businesses.

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Second, let's agree that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a cost. Employees who want to work less will be paid less. Or, depending on the employer, if the compensation levels remain equivalent for fewer hours or days at work, that means the labor costs for employers will be more. Those costs will have to come from somewhere, and employers will almost certainly react in ways we may not like.

Like embracing more automation, which means fewer available jobs, or raising prices.

Employers can't give employees more, while getting less, without there being some cause-and-effect ripples across our economy. We're already grappling with inflation, and this push could exacerbate that problem.

Which isn't necessarily an argument against it. If we're going to contemplate this - and that ship has sailed already, I think - then we need to be thinking about the costs.

Though, again, I think it would be healthier for our society to embrace work. If you're unhappy with the time you're obligated to spend at work, perhaps the solution isn't a shorter workweek, but a different sort of job.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com.
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