Anyone who works in business is familiar with the need for higher productivity without using higher resources--do more with less. District 27J in metro Colorado, having run out of options, decided to take a different approach to less.
Less school days.
Superintendent Chris Fiedler told a Denver news channel that 18,000 kids will no longer go to school on Mondays but will attend school 40 minutes longer on Tuesday through Friday (teachers will attend school for one half-Monday a month).
The move is expected to save $1 million dollars a year in transportation costs, teaching salaries, and district-wide utilities (with 70 percent of the savings coming just from running school buses less often).
So many questions.
What do you do with your child on Mondays if you work (away from home or at home)? Well, the district is providing daycare for $30/day.
Won't teachers hate this, feeling marginalized in stature and income level? Fiedler says he thinks the move will actually attract teachers to 27J.
Is this really the only option? The district has suffered through six failed attempts to get increased funding through bond elections.
In reality, will this compromise the quality of the child's education? Fiedler offered this resounding "no":
"We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation. To that end, I believe it is in our students' best interest to provide high quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week."
Some companies are also experimenting with a four-day work week. The New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian just instituted it permanently after eight weeks of testing. They found productivity actually went up as did a sense of work-life balance (which increased dramatically) while stress went down.
I'm sure it's not all rosy for this company or any company that would try to knock off Mondays. As fellow Inc. columnist Alison Davis rightfully pointed out, let's see how customers react and what happens to profits over the long run before we declare outright victory.
Can a four-day week work for classrooms and corporate?
I think it can because I believe in the power of human adaptability.
I think when forced to do more with less in this way, we'd find ways. Ever notice when you're under the gun to hit a deadline that you find yourself fiercely eliminating distractions and you miraculously just find ways to get it done?
We go to work and school for five days because that's what we've always done. To overturn the apple cart seems calamitous. But I think the benefits of more (paid) time off for our mental and physical health would be so appealing that it would force creativity. The New Zealand company found that workers put flags up to indicate their "don't interrupt me" times. They instituted shorter meetings and spent less time on social media.
They just made it work.
But here's the key.
They made it work because their leader (CEO Andrew Barnes) has empowered employees to find new ways to do their work.
And expectations of excellence were never dropped, as they weren't by superintendent Fielder, either.
I think going to a "reduced schedule" in some capacity (even if not a 4-day workweek per se) is very much worth at least experimenting with. If the leaders behind the change keep the same high standards for output but prioritize co-creation of smart ways to work differently, it could work.
Let me re-emphasize this last point. If your starting point is that you have an overloaded, overworked environment where not enough choices are made or where priorities aren't made clear, and where leaders won't openly commit to change--good luck.
If what ends up happening is reality is that employees are expected to do all the same things only in less time--good luck.
And if the leaders don't fundamentally empower employees to work differently while rolling up their sleeves, role-modeling new behaviors, and helping create new solutions--good luck.
But embrace these things, and you just may have good luck--and good fortune on the other side. The upside is too great not to try.