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On Columbus Day—or Indigenous Peoples’ Day—a Reflection on the Three-Day Weekend

October 8, 2018, 6:35 PM UTC

The battle lines have been drawn in America. But on one critical issue at least, the divide isn’t between red state and blue state, conservative and liberal, rural dweller and urbanite. In this particular clash of principles, crimson Alabama and Arizona have aligned themselves with azure Connecticut and Massachusetts; Idaho is in accord with New York; Texas is in league with Vermont.

Twenty-three U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the Council of State Governments mark today, Columbus Day—or, as many now memorialize this square on the calendar, Indigenous Peoples’ Day—as an official holiday and give their state workers the day off. Twenty-seven states do not. The federal government gives the day off to most of its civilian employees (the occasion has been an official holiday since 1937), but few companies follow suit. In its annual survey of employers, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that just 14% of offices were closed for the day in 2017, a percentage that has been trending downward for years. By comparison, 19% of companies give their workers the day off for Veterans Day. (FORTUNE does not have the day off, as you can see.)

I bring this up, not to litigate whether Christopher Columbus deserves a holiday or not—nor to debate whether the day should be rechristened Indigenous Peoples’ Day, or Native Americans Day, as it is in South Dakota—but rather to state for the record that I think we need a few more three-day weekends in this country. There, I said it.

And nearly a third of employers seem to agree—that is, if you flip the argument around a bit.

In its 2018 Employee Benefits report, SHRM found that 27% of the organizations it surveyed now offer their employees compressed workweeks. In such arrangements, personnel typically work nine-to-10 hour days, four days a week (or a “4/10” schedule), though there are plenty of variations on the theme.

Workers themselves generally like the format, as one might imagine. And on the whole, there seem to be tangible benefits for the companies that implement such programs. Overall, according to a 2010 analysis of previous academic studies on the subject by Lori Wadsworth, Rex Facer, and Chyleen Arbon at Brigham Young University, such research “has found that compressed workweeks are related to increased productivity, decreased turnover and absenteeism, greater levels of job satisfaction, decreased levels of anxiety and stress, and decreased commuting costs.”

(In an earlier meta-analysis, researchers then at Wayne State and Northern Illinois University, found that, overall, “compressed workweek schedules positively affected supervisor performance ratings, job satisfaction, and satisfaction with work schedule but did not affect productivity.”)

A decade ago, the state of Utah tried such an arrangement, on the grounds that it would save the government money. (It did.) But the state gave up on the experiment a few years later after complaints from citizens about the limited access to state services.

Workers, however, loved the set-up. In one study of municipal employees in Utah who shifted to a 4/10 schedule, workers even self-reported “lower levels of at-home conflict.”

Others, no surprise, are skeptical that such a realignment of the traditional 9-to-5 work regimen genuinely offers such unalloyed benefits. Longer, more intense workdays could lead to increased stress and fatigue, potentially resulting in some industries, for example, in a greater number of accidents. Loss of “face time” at work could also mean less time for collaboration and problem solving.

And then there’s the concern that the three-day weekend will lose its heroic holiday status if every weekend is a 72-hour affair. That’s, in fact, where I come down on this argument. Personally, I’m not quite ready to squeeze every working week into a four-day time capsule.

I just really wanted to take today off.

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