In this labor market, companies must make work more workable

American companies have long tried to figure out how to get more productivity out of their workers — so long as it doesn’t involve paying them more. Other than that, they’re open to all options — as long as those options are no different than the way they’ve always done things.

Recently there have been a lot of stories on companies — generally not American ones — that have experimented with 32-hour workweeks or retaining 40-hour workweeks but making it four 10-hour shifts instead of five eight-hour shifts. That’s a good start.

When I began working at the Ledger-Enquirer in 1997 as a copy editor, my schedule sounded fairly awful — Friday through Monday — so I had no weekend. But I did work four 10-hour days and had three straight days off, Tuesday through Thursday. Granted, it wasn’t uncommon to pull an overtime shift on one of those days, but when I did have three straight days off it felt like a mini-vacation and I was refreshed enough to get through a 35-inch story about a Harris County Commission meeting when I returned to the office.

Obviously not every company is designed to accommodate four 10-hour days, but many of those who’ve been able to pull it off have reported more productivity, less absenteeism and happier employees.

It seems to me that more American companies would consider such incentives in this tight labor market. The unemployment rate in the U.S. has been 5% or lower since December 2015 following the steady recovery from the Great Recession, meaning companies are fighting each other for the best employees.

Obviously one way they could battle for the best employees is to offer better pay because it’s kind of hard to get folks excited about the glut of $10-an-hour jobs in America right now. That’s enough pay to rent a nice cardboard box on the street but not quite enough to buy such luxuries as food. And while GDP increased to 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the Pay Scale Index reported that real wages actually declined by 1.8 percent in the second quarter — their sharpest decrease in seven years. The official word on real wages, the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  reported that they were up 0.3 percent in the quarter, from $350 a week to $351 a week, which, oh by the way, is exactly the same $351 as it was the day President Obama left office. In other words, companies aren’t inclined to share their fortunes with workers. For most American workers, GDP means Greedy Days Persist.

So, companies are going to need to offer some sweet incentives that will cost them nothing, such as the four-day workweek. In fact, they could even save money if they are able to shutter the office for an extra day. Of course, this is America, so they will label you a “professional” and try to squeeze 60 hours of work out of you in those four days, but at least it’s a start.

Japanese companies, who know a thing or two about productivity, have encouraged power naps at work for years. A few newfangled American companies like Google have looked at the actual evidence and installed napping pods, while most stodgy American companies would still rather have sluggish, sleep-deprived workers because that’s the way it’s always been.

The labor market is so tight now, though, that companies are going to have to go way beyond traditional incentives such as insurance, educational assistance, workout facilities, retirement plans and such. Y’all are going to have to think way outside your boxes.

Might I suggest Bring Your Ferret to Work Days, a roaming shoulder and neck masseuse (not the Harvey Weinstein kind), margaritas in the vending machine, dress codes that allow shorts and flip-flops (that’s “formal wear” to me), golf discounts and a big-screen television with a window frame around it showing a constant loop of waves crashing into the shore so people can pretend that even though they are working they are at least doing so at the beach.

By the way, if any company wants to lure a brilliant worker like myself, I’m going to need a slew of such incentives (except perhaps the ferret day — he hates work), including a salary somewhere around CEO-level. Throw in a workweek that consists of four 10-hour naps, and I promise you’ll have my attention.

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