Four-Day Weeks, Planning, Culture

By Angie Collis, PHR, Vicki Neal, PHR-CA, Naomi Cossack, SPHR Nov 1, 2008
Q: We are thinking about moving our business to a four-day workweek to help our employees save money on gas. What do we need to consider?

 A: Many employers are trying to help their employees ease the pain at the pump. Allowing employees to work four 10-hour days each week instead of a typical eight-hour, five-day schedule represents one option.

Commonly referred to as a “compressed workweek,” this method has advantages. It can save employees one round trip to work each week, adding up to significant savings. Even before gas prices began to escalate, employers used compressed workweeks as an informal work/life benefit for employees with long commutes or other family obligations. Now, many employers are choosing to take the cost savings a step further by closing for one day each week.

However, not all jobs are suited for a compressed schedule. This is true for jobs that require a set schedule to ensure proper coverage and customer interaction. HR professionals will want to conduct job analyses to ensure that all tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished within the schedule.

HR professionals also should consider the dynamics between employees left to work traditional schedules and those working compressed schedules. If not handled properly, resentment can fester among employees unable to use the compressed workweek benefit. To help prevent this, employers must create eligibility criteria and apply the criteria consistently.

Paid holidays are also a consideration when implementing a compressed schedule. There are three approaches to eligibility for holiday pay. Employers can:

  • Pay only for holidays occurring on the employee’s regularly scheduled workday.

  • Establish a “floating” holiday system, giving employees a certain number of days off in exchange for working on holidays.

  • Provide an extra day of pay while requiring the employee to work on that holiday, essentially paying the employee “double time.”

With planning, communication and execution, a compressed work schedule can be a benefit that employers can use to retain and attract employees.

—Angie Collis

Q: What strategies should I consider when writing a successful business plan?

A: Writing a business plan isn’t just for an entrepreneur with a startup business dream. You may find your company in a position of improvement or expansion, and the plan may woo creditors and investors, define a new business, provide course correction or simply evaluate a new product line. The plan also may be used by leaders to clearly define the business and strategy and create a road map to a successful enterprise.

After determining your purpose, write the plan with your audience in mind. Will your plan be used internally or externally?

External plans are generally startup, growth, expansion or new-product plans requiring financial capital. A financial history is most important to banks, while investors look more closely at the description of management. These plans must meet their needs and earn their respect. Internal plans, such as those designed to investigate a new product line, may be more operational than financial and may be written strictly for management.

There is no single outline because each plan has different goals. Generally, a plan has standard components, including an executive summary, company description, product or service description, market analysis and marketing plans, management team description, financial analysis, and operations plan. Successful implementation starts with a good plan with simple, specific, clear and realistic elements. Use general management principles and processes, and define strategy, realistic and measurable goals, actions, timelines, responsibilities, budgets, and plan reviews. Finally, the plan should cover all areas and try to eliminate the unknowns.

—Vicki Neal

Q: Does company culture affect organizational performance and effectiveness?

A: During the past few decades, academics and practitioners have examined corporate culture and whether culture impacts overall performance and effectiveness. Despite the attention given to this issue, there are still no conclusive answers.

Organizational culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding. Simply, a company’s structure and design can be viewed as its body, and its culture as its soul.

Because industries and situations vary significantly, it would be difficult and risky to propose a one-size-fits-all culture template that meets the needs of all organizations. Nonetheless, research does propose that if an organization’s culture is to improve its overall performance and effectiveness, that culture must be strong and must provide a strategic competitive advantage. In addition, its beliefs and values must be widely shared and firmly upheld.

An organization that develops and maintains a strong organizational culture may realize benefits such as

  • Enhanced mutual trust and cooperation.
  • Fewer disagreements and more efficient decision-making processes.
  • An informal control mechanism.
  • Facilitation of open communication.
  • A strong sense of identification.
  • A shared understanding.

Finally, regardless of whether supporting evidence exists to establish a definitive link between culture and effectiveness, valuing different viewpoints and styles as well as developing concrete ways to facilitate organizational learning from differences can prove to maximize organizational structure, procedures and processes.

—Naomi Cossack

Angie Collis, PHR, and Vicki Neal, PHR-CA, are HR knowledge advisors in SHRM’s HR Knowledge Center. Naomi Cossack, SPHR, is content manager in the center.

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