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Human Kinetics production director Susan Sumner conducts business from her office on Thursday in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign company is testing out a four-day work week this summer as it looks to improve employees’ work-life balance.

Between June 11 and Aug. 13, employees at Human Kinetics, an academic book publisher, will have Fridays off with no reduction in pay.

“We’ve been looking at ways we can provide more work-life balance to employees,” CEO Skip Maier said. “It’s not necessarily a monetary benefit they’re wanting, but more flexibility in their work life.”

Maier said the company will be essentially closed on Fridays.

“Naturally there might be business needs that come up or somebody might need to occasionally work an hour or two, but we want that to be the exception, not the rule,” he said.

Human Kinetics considered the idea before the pandemic, which Maier said “taught a lot of us that the traditional in-the-office, 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday isn’t necessary anymore.”

“We had to be much more flexible, working around school and kids at home,” Maier said. “It helped us realize that we could be much more flexible in our work schedules.”

More companies have been testing four-day work weeks, especially in Europe, said Dan Gilbert, an associate professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations.

“I think increasingly there have been news stories about firms in the U.S. moving in that direction,” he said.

The AFL-CIO federation of unions issued a report in 2019 pushing for a four-day, 32-hour work week.

“Part of the story is a corporate policy story, of change being led by leaders at firms looking to create positive workplace culture and maximize productivity, but there’s also a really interesting movement for shorter hours and work week from below led by workers and unions,” Gilbert said.

He said workers have gradually worked less, historically, from a 10-hour working day in the mid-1800s to an eight-hour day by the end of the 19th century. While there were calls for a 32-hour workweek in the 1940s and ’50s, Gilbert said that effort “disintegrated in the second half of the 20th century with the declining power of organized labor and other factors.”

As for whether the movement will succeed in the U.S., “we’ll see,” Gilbert said.

Maier said Human Kinetics considered a four-day work week year-round, but decided against it.

“We didn’t feel it was possible to do that every week of the year,” he said. “But we thought an alternative would be to do it for the summer.”

Human Kinetics is naturally less busy during the summer, and Maier doesn’t expect productivity to drop off.

“We definitely studied whether this will have an impact on productivity. We’ve been studying it for the past six months or so,” Maier said.

Human Kinetics is reducing meeting times from an hour to a half hour and pausing committee work over the summer, Maier said, “to ensure everyone feels comfortable getting their work done in 32 hours instead of 40.”

So far, he said the feedback has been positive.

“We’ve gotten very positive responses from all our major customers about the change,” Maier said.

He said some employees were hesitant about being able to get the same amount of work done in fewer days.

“We’re moving things around and making adjustments to schedules to make sure we can do this,” Maier said. “Overall, the feedback has been very positive.”

While Human Kinetics isn’t facing the hiring issues some companies are lately, Maier said having Fridays off during the summer will be touted as a perk when it’s recruiting.

This summer will act as a pilot, Maier said, but Human Kinetics plans to continue it next summer.

“We’ll see how employees handle it and if business is impacted,” he said. “If all goes well, we plan for this to be a regular thing every summer.”

Reporter

Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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