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Could we benefit from a four-day workweek?

By Kim Peterson / MoneyWatch 10:44 AM July 10, 2014

Why don’t more bosses implement a four-day workweek?

Doctors, executives and human resource experts say it would be great for the American workforce. People would have more time to see the dentist, hang out with their children and get errands done. Workers would be happier, and morale would improve.

Instead, much of America is still on a five-day week, with just two precious days on the weekend.

Google (GOOG) boss Larry Page praised the idea of a reduced workweek at a business summit last week. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true,” he said. People need to feel busy and productive, he said, but they don’t need to work so much to get there.

“Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests,” Page added. “So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek.”

The merits of a four-day workweek have been proven repeatedly. Software company 37signals switches to a four-day workweek from May through October, and only asks employees to work 32 hours a week during that time. CEO Jason Fried wrote in The New York Times that employees get more productive during those months.

“When there’s less time to work, you waste less time,” Fried wrote in an op-ed. “When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

Utah experimented with a four-day workweek for state workers, but switched back to a traditional week in 2011. Employees loved the four-day stretches, and spent their days off volunteering or working second jobs, The Associated Pressreports. Employees had fewer conflicts with work and home and saved money on gas. There was just one problem: Residents complained because some state services weren’t available on Fridays.

Market research firm Slingshot SEO has a four-day workweek, with employees clocking 10-hour days. “Your employee retention rate literally soars,” wrote CEO Jay Love on Inc.com. “Who would ever want to give up three days at home, only commuting four days a week.”

British doctors have recommended that the U.K. switch to a four-day week, saying it would help fight high blood pressure and mental health problems in the workforce. “The lunch hour has gone, people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working,” public health professor John Ashton told The Daily Mail.

There are some drawbacks to that kind of schedule, however. Ideally, the entire company should be on the same four-day week, or some employees may feel like they are missing out, CNN.com reports. One Denver attorney told the site that when she took a day off during the week, she felt like her stature at work diminished. “I became convinced that once out of sight, I was out of mind,” she said.

Also, some workers may find it exhausting to pull a 10-hour shift four days in a row. That’s a lot to ask, even for the reward of a three-day weekend.

Finally, some executives feel like they can’t miss out on one day of business. They fear many emails and voicemail messages go unanswered. The rest of the business world isn’t stopping, and customers and partners could get irritated at the lack of response.

So could America ever get on a path to a four-day workweek? Until company bosses become convinced of any real benefits, the chances are slim. “Often, it isn’t that employers don’t want to offer four-day workweeks, it’s that they’re not sure what’s in it for them,” workplace expert Lisa Horn told Next Avenue.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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