Why you should care
Because your entire life revolves around the weekend. But you have no control over when it falls.
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Happy, er, hump day, and hands up if you can’t wait for the weekend. But come Sunday evening, you know you’ll feel like you do every week — where the hell did the weekend go?!
Chances are, you work five days a week, 9 to 5 (or maybe 8 to 6, seeing as the average American employee clocks nearly 50 hours a week). Despite recent trends toward flexible working hours and the so-called “gig economy,” most of us still log a predictable, regular, boring workweek. The 5-2 pattern is arbitrary when you boil it down: The seven-day week seemed to originate with the Babylonians, and the two-day weekend started because English factory workers would often skip work with a hangover on Mondays when given just the Sabbath off. So here’s an idea: Let’s let workers trade those weekend days to spend whenever they want.
Since five-sevenths — or 71.4% — of the year is a workday, the rest are days off, so why shouldn’t we choose when they fall? To wit: If you choose to work through Saturday and Sunday one week, you could take a four-day break the next. Or, for those of you with hard-core endurance, you could work the first 261 days of the year straight through, from New Year’s Day until September 18, and then take the rest of the year off.
As it happens, the practice of being on for concentrated periods of time and then having extended time off “has been around forever” in certain industries, says professor Stewart D. Friedman from the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, such as on oil rigs and in the military. It turns out, he says, that when companies allow employees to fit work around their personal lives, without a rigid requirement to be in the office at a certain time each morning, workers still get the job done, and in fact do so more productively, and live happier, healthier lives. What’s not to love? Research suggests that even when companies trust their employees with unlimited paid vacation, they tend to end up taking about the same amount of time off as they would have otherwise, says Friedman. Banking up your weekends to later spend on longer breaks isn’t too far of a stretch.
Of course, excessive flexibility can prove costly to small businesses, says Molly Day from the National Small Business Association: “If you have one accountant and that person is gone for seven days without warning, somebody else in the office is gonna have to figure out how to do the payroll.” In small doses, this could be more amenable to employers. “If you wanted to bank up all your weekends for one month to take a vacation, I think that’s something that most employers could work with,” says Day, but if we’re talking 100 straight days off per year, “you get into a work-continuity issue.” Many of the companies pioneering flexible work policies have the profit margins and staffing levels to afford it: Those offering paid time off include the LinkedIns and Netflixes of the world. This can pose another challenge for small businesses: competing for employees (especially millennials, who prioritize work-life balance) against big companies able to offer more favorable benefits.
Besides that, increasingly flexible hours can make it more difficult for workers to switch off, warns Friedman. “The danger is you risk erasing the boundary between work and life, and work becomes all-consuming,” he says. More to the point from an employee’s point of view, any implementation of this sort of weekend-banking policy would have to ensure that extra time off in the form of public holidays and existing vacation time was given in addition to the 104 days of weekend per year, to avoid it actually resulting in less time off than would otherwise have been the case.
Despite the drawbacks of taking this proposal to the extremes, a little flexibility could still go a long way, when it might make more sense to work intensively on a project through the weekend and delay your time off so you can properly enjoy it. Food for thought the next time you find yourself working on a Sunday.
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