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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Will Gas Prices Kill the 5-Day Workweek?

There may be some benefit the pain at the pump: Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a slew of news stories reporting that employers—especially those in government—are becoming more flexible about alternative working arrangements like telecommuting and the four-day week, all in the name of helping workers save on rising commuting costs.

For example, a recent article in USA Today states that a growing number of employers are jumping on the telecommuting bandwagon.

Take Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who’s letting his staffers work from home one day a week this summer: "With gas prices exceeding $3.50 a gallon and no end in sight to the increases I want to try and do something to help you with that burden," he wrote in an April memo [when gas prices were a "mere" $3.50 per gallon].

Also according to the article, the U.S. House of Representatives just approved legislation requiring the head of each federal agency to set policies allowing qualified workers to work from home or another convenient location, citing relief from high gas prices as one reason.

Meanwhile, an even larger number of employers are condensing the five-day workweek into four 10-hour days, says this article from the AFP news agency, which notes that city officials in Birmingham, Ala., have decided to shrink the workweek for more than 2,400 municipal employees, starting July 1. My favorite quote:

"Our biggest motivation was to give our employees a cost savings due to gasoline prices here. But it will also give parents an extra day with their children and save on day care costs,” said April Odom, the mayor’s director of communications, who estimates that the move will save $500,000 to $1 million annually in fuel costs alone.

"Our employees are very excited and ready to start today."

So employers can provide some life/work balance benefits and relieve workers of a big expense, all by supporting telecommuting and a shorter workweek. Sounds like win-win to me.

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