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Opinion: State College Should Become a 4-Day Workweek Test Lab

Raise your hand if you’re currently working five days a week and would hate dropping down to four. No one? A four-day workweek would be awesome and State College is the perfect place to test it out.

Here’s why.

State College is already one of the most flexible places to work in the country. The top five employers of Centre County are:

  1. Penn State
  2. State Government 
  3. Mount Nittany Medical Center 
  4. State College Area School District 
  5. Glenn O. Hawbaker 

Those five employers represent nearly 40% of the local workforce and of them:

  • Penn State offers a generous five weeks of paid vacation for full time staff.
  • Many employees at Mount Nittany, like other hospitals, work nontraditional hours, such as 12 hour shifts, three-days a week.
  • SCASD is not in session in the summer and winter break.
  • And Hawbaker construction crews see a similar seasonality to their work.

State government employees work a traditional work week but a lot of our town already works a flexible schedule. And at least a few private companies have already implemented schedules and perks that veer off from the 9 to 5. Truck cover manufacturer Diamondback Covers in Philipsburg pays its workers a full wage to work 36 hours a week. State College-based software developer West Arete gives all of its employees a fully paid, fully unplugged — and mandatory — sabbatical each year.

Studies show employees are just as productive, if not more productive, when they have less time to finish the same amount of work. In the 1930s, Henry Ford recognized this phenomenon when he reduced the workweek from 60 to 40 hours and saw productivity increase. And it wasn’t until the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act that a 40-hour workweek became the standard under law.

This summer, nonprofit 4 Day Week Global launched a six-month trial of a four-day week pilot program in the United Kingdom. Midpoint data from the 70 participating companies showed no reduced productivity and increased wellness. In the U.S., California Congressman Mark Takano introduced the 32-Hour Workweek Act, but tech companies like Bolt have already implemented the change.

This couldn’t happen overnight but we could make a four-day workweek a community goal we move toward over time. Perhaps Penn State starts scheduling more classes that don’t meet on Fridays — I know that students would rejoice at that. In fact, if Penn State became a four-day university, its applications would go through the roof.

Additionally, there are many K-12 school districts in the country that have moved toward a four-day schedule. Twenty-five percent of school districts in Missouri are four days a week. A lot of times, it’s to save money and the impact on student learning is out for debate. We would certainly want to prioritize student learning over most everything else. So what if the school week was structured so that class time was done on Thursday with Friday being a day for extra tutoring, apprenticeship or entrepreneurship? What might that produce in our community?

The arguments against a four-day workweek usually come from a fear that we’ll be outworked by our global competitors. They cite the 996 working hour system in China, where employees work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days per week. But in my experience, the argument that we’ll lose out to harder working people doesn’t hold water. While some people would downshift and take some time for themselves (which is a great thing and could actually make them more productive as I noted before), others would choose to work more by negotiating an additional shift at their work, taking on a second job or launching a side business.

Over the last eight years, I worked for myself and I had every opportunity to set a four-day workweek. I even tried to do it but I always ended up working on projects and things I wanted to work on instead of “taking the day off.” To me, that’s the power of a four-day workweek. You get the time to pursue your passions and interests in a way that ultimately benefits your own unique situation.

I also believe it will help our community grow and improve. In our post-COVID world, so many employees are asking for more control over their time. Some companies can provide this by offering remote options or flex time, but for manufacturing or other businesses that require workers on site, the four-day workweek could be an enticing option.

Plus, a four-day workweek could help with our challenge of attracting top-talent to the area. At the end of the semester, I always ask my students, by a show of hands, how many of them would consider taking a pay cut in return for a four-day workweek. The results are overwhelming in favor of a four-day workweek.

In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandkids would be working 15-hours per week due to the increases in technology and efficiency. I’m certain we have the brainpower and community in State College that could find the efficiencies and technologies to inch us closer to that prediction. The resulting work would provide us more time to spend with our family, community and passions — let’s make it happen!