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The Impossible Dream of the 4-Day, 40-Hour Work Week

What if [takes a giant bong rip] instead of working eight hours a day for five days a week (like a total sucker, maaaaaan), you could work 10 hours a day for just four days a week?

That mind-blowing hypothetical was posed to Reddit users yesterday on the platform’s popular AskReddit forum, with users responding overwhelmingly in support of the four-day work week.

“I worked a 10/4 shift for years and it was great,” writes one Reddit user. “You barely notice an extra two hours a day, but you sure as heck notice an extra day off a week. It also makes it super-easy to arrange for appointments like dentist or doctor [visits] without having to take time off work, so you can use your vacation days for actual fun stuff.”

Of course this person loved it. Who wouldn’t trade in a couple more hours of work each day for an entire extra weekend day? You’re still working the same total number of hours (40), but with a three-day weekend. Not to mention the time you save not having to commute to and from the office on what would have been your fifth day of work.

You could finally finish that novel you’ve been working on. Or learn Swahili. Or pick up the harpsichord. Imagine the possibilities!

Unfortunately you, the lowly office drone, will never get to bask in such delights, because most traditional offices are too rigid to institute such a radical change in operations, according to Deborah Moroz, founder and CEO of HR consultancy HROIC. (And our perennial wet blanket on such topics.)

Judging by the Reddit responses, a four-day, 10-hour work week is common in manual labor jobs, such as the carpenter who praises the merits of such an arrangement. One manufacturing worker says he worked an even more truncated schedule: three 12-hour shifts a week. “You get 4 days off which is like a vacation every time, it’s incredible… you could even plan a trip in that time. But then, of course, you’re doing 12 hour days.” [All sic.]

But much like taking a midday office nap, a four-day work week is one of those better-on-paper kinda ideas that’s fun to consider but difficult to implement in a more traditional office, according to Moroz.

For one, it’s trickier to navigate such an arrangement for exempt employees, who receive a salary instead of an hourly wage. When you’re a non-exempt employee paid hourly, how you apportion your work time doesn’t matter as long as you hit your weekly quota (typically 40 hours) and get your work done.

Most people who work in offices are exempt employees, however; as in, exempt from earning overtime for working more than 40 hours a week. Sure, you can work 10 hours Monday through Thursday. But you’re just setting the expectation that you’ll be doing the same on Friday, too, and for no extra pay.

“I have [10-hour days four days a week],” writes another Reddit user. “Except I also get to work 10 [hours] on Friday. This saves me the cost of going away for a three-day weekend, so it’s economically sound! *sob*”

There are other practical implications, too, such as companies not wanting to have an empty office when a client comes in on Friday.

But the aversion to a four-day work week is mostly due to our cultural obsession with hard work. Or more accurately, the perception that we work hard. It doesn’t matter if you get all of your work done in four days as opposed to five, either. “The face time is important. Bosses want you there, Monday through Friday,” Moroz adds.

Ultimately, that’s what this is really about: The misguided notion that quantity correlates with quality, and our cynical devotion to optics. The quality of your work hours matter less than making it look like you’re working hard, and often the easiest way to accomplish that is just sitting your ass at your desk for longer than is necessary.

The closest most conventional offices get to a four-day week is the occasional Summer Friday, Moroz says, but as MEL’s resident HR expert Terry Petracca tells us, Summer Fridays are a dying tradition.

“Employers want more productivity, more time and more things getting done,” Moroz says. “The last thing they’re going to want to do is give another day off.”