Short Work Week Slow to Catch On in U.S.

ByABC News
May 26, 2003, 5:32 PM

May 26 -- The Memorial Day weekend is an extended weekend for most in the United States, but for many in France, a four-day workweek is as common as the late-evening dinner.

As one Frenchwoman told ABCNEWS between leisurely sips of coffee Parisians have "many hours for family and leisure and vacation." The woman was spotted at a café on a Friday her day off.

Fridays in the United States, meanwhile, are just more "nose to the grindstone". The International Labor Organization found that Americans three years ago worked 1,978 hours a 10 percent increase over the 1,779 they worked in 1973.

At the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Paul Rupert works with companies to think differently than "Monday to Friday, morning to night."

He says the number of hours people put in at the office is a poor measure of what they're actually getting done, because many people who work long days end up doing personal tasks instead. A better solution, he says, is to focus on workers' results, contribution and output rather than time spent at the office.

"The ways of working that were adapted during the industrial models are reasonably dysfunctional with knowledge workers," says Rupert. "And that means that they actually make them less productive."

Still, Rupert says most employers would insist that they need their workers five days a week, and says they would ask, "'why would we give people four ten-hour days when I'm getting five ten-hour days now?'"

Abbreviated Hours Lengthen Service For Some

While few American companies operate on the four-day work week schedule, RBA Group in Morristown, NJ has offered workers a schedule of four days on, three days off for 31 years.

RBA President Bill Garro needed a lure to attract and keep employees at what was once a fledging architectural and engineering firm. His four-day work week was successful.

"A high percentage of people have been with us a long time because (the shortened workweek) gets into the quality of life issue," Garro said.