Is a Four-Day Workweek Right for Your Association?
Many organizations are considering moving to a four-day workweek. But how can you implement a flexible work schedule to staff and still provide the same level of service to members? One association shares how it found a balance through iteration and practice.
Though the idea of moving to a four-day workweek has recently grown in popularity, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources began exploring the idea almost 15 years ago.
Rising gas prices after Hurricane Katrina and the 2007 financial recession led CUPA-HR to introduce the shorter workweek into its 2008 summer schedule to better support staff.
“We serve higher education, and since college campuses tend to be quiet during the summer, it made sense to try [the four-day workweek] then,” said Rob Shomaker, senior vice president of CUPA-HR.
Employees enjoyed the shorter schedule. Around 2010, CUPA-HR began experimenting with alternate work schedules during the remainder of the year. This past January, the four-day workweek became permanent.
“We tried it out in the spirit of flexibility and didn’t miss a beat,” Shomaker said.
He shared strategies for implementing a four-day workweek and how associations can create an environment that supports staff but also meets member expectations.
Shomaker said associations that are interested in a four-day workweek should seek frequent feedback from staff and be open to trying multiple iterations before settling on the final strategy.
“If we jumped straight into a year-long four-day workweek, it would have been hard,” he said. “It helped that we were willing to try different things, ask questions, and get honest feedback.”
To get feedback over the years, senior staff have asked supervisors to discuss the four-day workweek in one-on-one meetings with their team members or reached out to staff members themselves. Shomaker recommends trying out some of the suggestions or ideas that staff offer you.
“Getting new ideas and feedback helped us iterate and try new things,” he said. “For example, 10-hour days can be long for some folks, especially if you’ve got family obligations. So, we changed that as part of the summer schedule.”
Building an environment that promotes flexibility for staff and delivers on member expectations is crucial to implementing successful shorter workweek.
“We’ve had to learn [this balance] through iteration,” Shomaker said. “We’re a four-day organization with a five-day operation. We adjust where we need and make sure we give our team members space, so they don’t feel like they need to be strapped to their computers on Fridays.”
Although the CUPA-HR office is closed on Fridays, staff do work if critical issues pop up or if there’s an upcoming conference. The association approaches these situations with transparency, so staff aren’t surprised to work the additional day.
Email communication also makes the shorter workweek a bit easier. “It’s easier to triage issues, and much easier to manage questions via email on a Friday instead of having your phone ring when you’re off or with family,” Shomaker said.
CUPA-HR was able to implement the abbreviated workweek in part because its staff are invested in its success.
“We want our staff to put their best effort forward and be able to live their lives,” Shomaker said. “You want to give your employees autonomy in this process while also being clear with your objectives.”
In his experience, Shomaker found that when employees are invested in the four-day workweek, they are more willing to work a full week when necessary to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“This approach is a way to help you take care of your team and still deliver value to members,” Shomaker said. “If your association has the capacity to incorporate a flexible schedule, I recommend giving it a try.”