Experience in different countries
In the United States and Canada, the compressed work week was first tried out in the early 1970s. By mid-1971 some 600 firms in the United States had experimented with it in one form or another for at least some weeks in the year, mainly on the basis of a 4-day week of between 10 and 9 hours (daily hours were shorter where the 4 1/2-day week was introduced). An estimated 75,000 persons were affected, or approximately one in every 1,000. By 1973 the number had risen to an estimated 3 million. In Canada about 200 firms, nearly 100 of them in the Province of Ontario, were running similar experiments during the same period.1
Experience up to 1971 showed that the plan had mostly been introduced in small- and medium-sized firms, generally after a trial period, though there were some larger firms, such as the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company employing about 6,000 persons at its Boston headquarters alone.
From the most recent reports, moreover, it appears that today, several years since the 4-day week was welcomed as a revolutionary step opening the way to a new era of leisure, only 2 per cent of full-time wage earners work fewer than five days a week. This percentage includes persons on 3-day, 3 1/2-day, 4-day and 4 1/2-day weeks, normally made up of at least 35 working hours. The 5-day week is prevalent where weekly working hours total between 35 and 45 and is most widespread in sectors where the normal total is 40. The current status of the 4-day week has some resemblance to that of the 5-day week in the 1920s, but there is no certainty that it will become standard in the proper acceptation of that term.2
In Europe, the first experiments go back to the 1960s. A small British firm, Roundhay Metal Finishers, at Batley in Yorkshire, introduced a compressed working week for its 40 employees in 1965. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the first to adopt a 4-day week was a publishing firm, Herbert Riesler, in Hamburg, in 1967. In France, one case was reported of a 4 1/2-day week introduced in 1972; the firm concerned, situated near Grenoble, employed mainly women, and the workforce had already accepted the system of an unbroken work day.3
Experience with the compressed work week in Britain is limited as in most other European countries, even though 4 1/2-day and 4-day weeks were fairly common in the early 1960s among shift workers in the British engineering and textile industries. According to Sloane, wherever the compressed work week has been tried out, employers have been generally satisfied: there have been improvements in labour recruitment and reductions in turnover. Few data are available, however, on increased productivity. On workers' attitudes, Sloane reports that 70 per cent of the workforce in the three firms he surveyed considered the compressed week an improvement in that it gave them a longer week-end and more opportunities for leisure activities, and necessitated fewer daily journeys to and from work. However, a sizeable minority maintained that it was difficult to readjust to work after the long week-end break, and some found that they were more tired as a result of the long work periods.1
It is not always easy to assess the real impact of the various features of the compressed work week. It may therefore be useful to consider a particular case, that of a mechanical engineering firm in the United States, which introduced a 4-day week in April 1969. The firm manufactured grinding machines and the work was therefore dirty, noisy and monotonous. Hence, although located in an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (6.8 per cent), the firm was finding it difficult to recruit labour. It therefore introduced a 4-day week of 36 hours instead of 40, but with no corresponding decrease in pay. At first overtime was maintained, but was soon found to be unprofitable owing to the length of the working day: output in the tenth hour amounted to only about 40 per cent of normal output. Overtime was therefore abolished and an additional work shift employed instead. The results were very encouraging. Between April 1969 and October 1970 production rose by 14 per cent, and absenteeism declined by 54 per cent.2 In the euphoria of these first results the management concluded that the system was universally applicable; however, as will be seen, others disputed that view.
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