published Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Cook: Thank God it's Thursday

Make that kind of society where it is easier for men to be good.

— Peter Maurin

Your weekend began this morning.

Imagine it. A four-day work week ended Thursday afternoon at beer-thirty, and when you went to bed last night, you were on the good side of three days of whatever-you-want.

This morning, you could read at your kid's school. Start a garden. Restart your novel. Lend a hand over at the local rec center. Or women's shelter. Or library.

Because -- hang with me in this daydream just a sec more -- you've somehow landed a job that gives you back your Friday, no strings attached.

Call it a three-day weekend, call it a compressed work week, but whatever you do, don't call it crazy.

Because it could solve a lot of the mess we're in.

Right now, Americans are either overworked and overtired or underworked and underpaid. We have lost our bearings on what it means to labor, and the reasons why we work. Americans are the most productive workforce in the world, according to the International Labor Organization, yet far from the happiest or healthiest.

Locally, we keep trying to create jobs and recruit talent.

Well, what if jobs aren't coming back? At least not like they used to?

What if salaries aren't either?

So, instead of pouring money into salaries, benefits and job creation, what if companies gave employees more free time? Flexibility, instead of money?

And instead of hiring one person to do massive amounts of work, companies hire two?

"Take this job and share it," Chris Maisano writes in Jacobin.

If companies eased off the traditional, Dolly Parton-9-to-5 work week, we'd all collectively exhale. Americans would get an extra day of weekend, which would make us happier, and healthier, and therefore more productive when we do return to work.

Plus, if Fridays become Saturdays, companies could save on energy costs. And pay out less in salaries and insurance claims. And hire more folks.

Most importantly, a four-day work week would reflect a shift in values: from capital to human capital.

We work well when we're happy. We're happy when we're whole. We're whole when we're involved, rested, entertained and in community with one another.

Somehow in this American Dream, we've fallen asleep to these truths.

"Instead of fighting for more work, much of which is likely to be bad, how about fighting for less work for everybody?" Maisano says. "This could be a very effective way to make sure that there are enough jobs to go around for everyone while limiting the amount of time workers spend in deadening, alienating labor."

Americans used to work six days a week, and then unions pushed for five. Who says it can't now go to four? Or three-and-a-half? We could work four days a week, 10 hours a day, or just redefine the 40-hour standard. Why can't 30 hours be the new 40?

In a way, it's already happening.

"New York's Families and Work Institute reported in 2012 that 36 percent of workplaces offer a compressed week at least part of the year," Jim Braude writes in the Boston Globe.

Working from home. Facetiming. Flexible scheduling. Chattanooga could pioneer all this and more for mid-sized Southern cities. If 50 of our top companies or workplaces could join together and begin to offer their employees a four-day week -- or a three-day weekend, which just sounds better -- we could announce this to the nation with as much gusto as our outdoor beauty, Gig and riverfront tourism.

Move to Chattanooga: It's one long weekend.

It could couple perfectly with our outdoorism, giving folks an extra day to paddle, climb or ride.

It could benefit our communities and common spaces, freeing up time for people to volunteer and reconnect in public and civic ways.

Most of all, it could realign things: people over profit.

"We don't invest in people," one local artist said recently.

This would.

Flexible work weeks would push back against the hegemony of profit-making while reorganizing daily life to honor the human spirit, that indelibly precious part of us that exists not to sell things but to play, create and smile our way through life.

Here's to more free time.

And hey ... enjoy your weekend.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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