David C. Hamilton
David Hamilton

Fellowship Title:

The Four-Day Week in Three Acts

David Hamilton
September 1, 1972

Fellowship Year



Hasn’t enough been said? Haven’t The New York Times and Business Week and The Wall Street Journal and Riva Poor’s direct mail clarion sounded the call sufficiently? Doesn’t the nation know?

In the words of a stylist, Some Resist Trend Toward Shorter Work Week.

Act One, Scene One


The bank of offices is mist green, moss green, mint green, yellow and grey; the tone is pureed. The personnel director of an international corporation speaks: He wishes that neither his name nor that of his corporation be mentioned.

“I think what business is trying to do today — or an increasing number of companies such as ours — we’re trying to increasingly work at putting meaningfulness back into jobs. If we’ve made any mistakes, we’ve overfragmented jobs. And now what we’ve got to do is catch up, so to speak, in the human arena, and build back responsibility into jobs.

“Well, we’re increasingly in the last three or four years looking at jobs in what they call job enrichment…where if you think of a job as having a doing element, where you do, you can now say to a person, ‘Look, what parts of this can you take on responsibility for planning your work, for controlling your ideas, for innovation in your work? We expect you to, if you have innovative ideas, to be creative in your work.’ We will set up a type of what we call ‘team management’ around here, where the hourly worker should be included in solving problems. We’re asking, ‘What are your interests? What rat are you chasing?’

“Time to me is part of the gimmickry of the whole thing…whether you work a four-day week or a three-day week, so what? This is more in the convenience, or what we call the hygienic area of motivation — you sort of change the frosting on the cake. If you cut the working days from five to three, your people may be as miserable on the three days as they were on the five. All you get is a time break.”

Act One, Scene Two


Heavy crock kitchen clatter, today’s special fish cakes and mashed potatoes, the plywood and formica diner-across-the-street. An industrial engineer for a nationally-distributed cookware firm, done with his time studies, doesn’t mind if his or his company’s names are mentioned. He talks over lunch.

Business Lunch

listens to question180 sec.
picks up knife and fork3
cuts fish cake5
lays knife aside, moves fish cake portion to mouth2
chews fish cake portion (average 21 times) while deliberating25
continues deliberation42
speaks (average statement 9 sentences; average sentence 17 words)311
false starts27
hems and haws49
Sub total644 sec.
discount 10% for complex questions64.4 sec.
Sub total579.6sec.
average number minutes per exchange9.66
average number exchanges per hour6.2
subtract nonessential exchange2.4

Standard for business lunch is 3.8 meaningful exchanges per hour.

He retells the old industrial engineer’s tale of the factory line on which productivity was so low that the company considered phasing it out. “More lights,” the workers demand. More lighting is installed; production increases. More lighting is installed; production hits a record high. “Too much light,” the workers say. Lighting is reduced to its original level; production flies to a new high. “They simply saw that somebody cared about them,” he says.

“So whether you put these people on a five-day week or a seven-day week or a four-hour day or an eight-hour day or however you work it, as long as they know that you are genuinely concerned with their welfare and you want to make conditions better for them — that’s the stuff that really measures productivity.”

Act One, Scene Three


A dark garage, the intersection of two dirt alleys, a small town. Maroon Pontiac there, wide track, twin fours, street rod. It’s the rat he chases, this worker, Sunday afternoon drag strip, no consolation trophy, Honda 750 nearby just for kicks. He works the third shift in the packing department of an international corporation whose personnel director wishes that his name not be mentioned; in the interest of fairness, the worker’s name should not be mentioned.

“Oh yeah. Yeah…I guess I’d like that (a four-day week). It’d probably make my work more efficient — ‘cause I’d enjoy myself more off the job. Now, it’s a grind. Now, the problem is after work I gotta sleep; after sleep I gotta drag my ass back to work.”

Act One, Scene Four


Tom Uhl, former state president of the Ohio postal workers union, himself now settled in corporate pastels as the service director for the city of Wooster, Ohio, talks about changing labor patterns in the country.

“There are lots of people in the middle class today I think who will tell you, ‘I want to maintain my so-called middle class standards, but I also really want to find myself as an individual, and I would really like to have 26 weeks or 20 weeks or 13 weeks that I could really do my own thing.’ I think at all levels of the country there are people who would like the opportunity…But there is this just tremendous gap in communications between workers and management….”



All you get is a time break? Time away from the job is an impressively consistent gain made by workers over the last century. In 1870, the old man didn’t knock off for the sabbath until he’d put in about 53 hours. By 1929, five percent of U.S. industry was on a five-day week. Gee, that must have been revolutionary; it took a decade to become a widespread practice. Now, 30 years later, the five-day week is a sacred cow. To some, that is, not all.

Riva Poor, who edited the book 4 Days, 40 hours, published in 1970, has made an industry of the shorter work period, issuing a monthly newsletter on the subject, and hustling to its initiates such paraphernalia as a cassette tape recording with instructions on installing “the 4-40” in your very own plant or business.

Her research indicates that the shorter week is most successful in small, nondiversified industries. Her estimates are that somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 U.S. organizations have adopted the plan or a variant. Yet, 80 percent of U.S. industries employ fewer than 100.

Sorry, New York Times, sorry Business Week, sorry Wall Street Journal; somehow the rnessage isn’t getting through.

Act Two, Scene One


Bob Paterakis, vice president and general manager, Colonial Carbon Co., Des Plaines, Ill., toys with a pipe. He sucks on it experimentally, pokes at it with a pipe tool, digs with a matchstick, fills it gently, and lights it. When he is ready to speak, not surprisingly, he is direct.

“I don’t say that everyone should be on the four-day week,” he says. “But I do think that everyone should look at the four-day week. How can anyone say that the four-day week is not legitimate? From what basis? When I gave a short talk at the University of Wisconsin — I was there for a seminar — the first question I was asked was, ‘Why the 4-40?’ Well, my response was, ‘Why not the 4-40?’

“Now the experience that we have had is that our absenteeism went down…appreciably. Now, it was not high — the national average was something like 5.7 which happened to be our exact percentage. It went down to 3.7 or 8 — a big percentage decrease. Productivity did increase, about 7, 8 percent. Tardiness — even though we were starting earlier — was less of a problem. People were happier. All these things took place. We still have a great morale situation out there.

“Now I cannot in all honesty say that this was due to the 4-40 completely. I think economic conditions as they have existed in the last couple of years (Colonial adopted the system in March 1971) would make people more cognizant of a secure position. They may not want to bounce around. Some of it you could trace to more automated equipment, more efficiency.

“But I do think that the 4-40 was a distinct factor. You get this willingness to produce. The people seem to be happy. They seem to enjoy working for the company. We think that maybe the four-day week improved their willingness to produce, to cooperate, to go along with new systems and methods — I mean, it was a favorable effect, I’m sure.”

The success that Paterakis talks about can be measured somewhat. In 1967, the company’s sales per man hour worked by hourly paid employees was $229. In 1971, the year the company went on the 4-day work week, the figure was $474. Productivity, up more than seven percent in the year since the 4-40 was instituted,had actually decreased during a similar period before adoption of the plan.

Colonial, a producer of carbon papers (ditto, ditto, ditto), has about 50 employees, no union and prospects for continued success — “a real sweetheart operation,” as Paterakis puts it. The manner in which Faterakis installed the 4-day week hints at a part of the reason.

“The goal here was for the employees, believe it or not…If the employees would benefit by this and the company is not hurt by it, why not?” Paterakis says. He was plant manager; the idea was his. “The thing I had to find out was, do the employees want it?”

So he circulated an introductory note, assuring employees that the plan (if adopted) was for their “creative leisure time, for relaxation, or to pursue their interests.” Overtime would not be eliminated, he wrote (and later kept two workers on unnecessary overtime just to keep his word). Second, he circulated a questionnaire on the plan.

“What I wanted was a kind of edict from our employees saying, ‘Yes, I want it.’ I’d have to have an overwhelming favorable response to it or else I wouldn’t pursue it. Again my premise: for them. It was not going to be a simple majority, not even a three-quarters. I was hoping — I did want to go to it — but I was hoping I would get a real great reaction. And I did.”

Paterakis brought workers to his office in groups of four or five to discuss the change, pro and con. He analysed the results of his questionnaire from several aspects: first shift vs. second, men vs. women.

“About 93 percent had a combined favorable response — that means a combination of good, great. Seven percent said it was undesireable — but they would try it. I didn’t lose anyone. No one said ‘no way’. Now I don’t think this is typical, it’s just my experience. For example, a Gallup poll in 1970 indicated that women were basically against it — I got 91 percent in favor.

“I asked what workers thought would be the greatest advantage. Well, the vast majority said more personal time, more leisure time, more time with the family, more weekend trips. Only four said they could see no advantage. I asked what disadvantage. Twenty-one couldn’t think of anything at all. A couple said they might be spending more money, because they have more time off; a couple said it might be tough to get up on Monday morning.” Paterakis is almost gleeful in the retelling: “A vast majority, as you can tell, thought it would be a great idea.”

Step four: Paterakis sits up lonely nights adjusting his operation to a shorter week. How do you pay jury duty wages? What about sick pay? Tardiness? When, how, do set-up men set up the machines? Every question, in his estimate, was answered in advance. Every employee was in his place. “We do keep a few people on the five-day week,” he says. “They prefer it. And I do want some people in here on Friday.”

All in readiness, a bulletin: “The four-day week is a reality for plant personnel at Colonial….” Among the points made: “We recognize the distinct probability of increased production by minimizing startup and other down-time. This was certainly a factor in influencing our decision.” (“I didn’t pull any punches,” Paterakis says. “As I got into it, I saw many ways where the company was going to benefit also. And I certainly didn’t keep it a secret.”) He also warned: “If problems arise, such as excessive tardiness or absenteeism, or decreased production, the program can be discontinued at any time at the discretion of management.” But, he reports, “we just haven’t had any problems.”

Something is lying on the table in this talk that doesn’t seem worth mentioning: Paterakis was plant manager when he proposed the program; now he is vice president and general manager. “The office staff is now on a four-and-a-half day schedule,” he says. “I changed that as soon as I moved into the office.” Yes, it is a giggle.

Paterakis’ successor on the plant floor, Bill Coltharp, has a few moments to speak on a busy day. “I think the ideal situation would be a three-day, 12-hour shift,” he says. “When we’re working overtime (which, for Colonial, can mean a 12-hour shift), they meet each other coming and going, and the machines are going 24 hours a day.”

Act Two, Scene Two


Gus Sirotzki, worker, enters Bill Coltharp’s office for what he knows will be a conversation about the four-day week. Since its inception, more than half of the plant’s personnel have seen their names and/or pictures in various media. They are culture heroes.

“I read an article once (about the four-day week) and I thought it sounded pretty nice,” Gus Sirotzki says. “But I never even anticipated it here. I talked it over with my wife, we discussed it, and we thought we’d really like to try it. It’s really ideal for us. We’re kind of close…and I think that this four-day week has brought us closer, because of the time we can spend together. It’s not like where you’re going off five days a week to work and then the only two days you got off you don’t want to do anything.”

As opposed to a two-day weekend (“By the time you even started with your chores, you didn’t have time to do anything”), the three-day holiday has given Sirotzki the opportunity to remodel his house during winters (only the kitchen and panelling in the basement remain to be done) and to vacation in the summers. “My wife and I, we’ve got kind of a thing going. She’s got two mounted fish, and I don’t have any yet.” So, every weekend, literally, it’s up to Spooner, Wis., for the Sirotzkis. Before, “the only time I ever went anywhere was on vacations. That extra day makes a big difference.”

He doesn’t think longer hours have hurt his work; they’ve helped, in fact. “You want to do more ‘cause you know you’ve got a nice weekend comin’ up,” he says. “Whereas when I worked a five-day week, come Thursday, oh boy, I dreaded Friday, I really did. That fifth day going to work just did something to me.”

At home, Sirotzki dropped his seven-year-old off at school, babysat, “even helped with the cooking” while his wife was working. His neighbors are “kinda jealous.” “They’d like to have it. I think eventually you’ll see a four-day week and you’ll see a three-day week too. And I think you’ll find people are all for it.

“I think the company like General Motors or any of the big corporations should get to know their workers a little better. They might find that people will go along with them. To a great extent.”

Sirotzki hopes that industry’s plans include a three-day week. “Yeah,” he says, and laughs. “I read about that once. It’d be the berries. It’d be like having a weekend at work.” What he’d do maybe, if everything worked out, would be buy property in Wisconsin and set his family up there for the summer. Then he’d fly up every “weekend” and fish.

Act Two, Scene Three


Jane Carlsen has had a good chance to compare the four-day week to the five. After working at Colonial for two years, she left to have a child. When she returned in April, nearly two years later, the company had turned to the shorter week. “I stayed on the five-day week until school was out (she has two school-aged children). I wanted to see what the babysitter situation was, whether my husband would be willing to put up with the hours, how it worked at home.”

Well, the babysitter thought it was great. Her husband, who drives her to work on the way to his job, found that the change didn’t affect him, and she found that at home it worked to her advantage. “It’s great for me because I’m involved in several organizations and a couple of political campaigns. So Fridays I get my housecleaning done in the morning and also schedule meetings in the afternoons which I didn’t have the opportunity to do before, and still have my Saturdays and Sundays for leisure. I’m home with the children more, and what I really like is scheduling meetings during the day — I don’t have to go out at night, taking the time away from the kids. So it’s a lot easier.”



Is there a mechanism by which Riva Poor can count the babysitters who are on a four-day week? Can the American labor force really find happiness flying to Wisconsin for weekend fishing? Will anonymous personnel directors ever ask their workers direct questions?

A wind is blowing, all right, but which direction and how strongly are subject to question. Big businesses are frightened that organized labor will force a four-day, 32-hour week on them if this trend continues. And a few companies already have three-day 36- or 39-hour weeks in operation. But it is difficult to imagine that industry is overpopulated with managers like Paterakis, who are willing to walk step-by-step with workers through a change like this. Where will it all end?

Act Three


He sits 10 stories above the lakefront in Chicago in an office whose rugs climb right up the walls to the ceiling. There is a typewriter beside him, a desk in front, a wall of books beyond. He is 22 and he runs the show.

Outside Lake Michigan shimmers in the distance, inside he smiles. “I’m going to retire when I’m 30,” he says finally. “A lot of people laugh when I say that.”



Received in New York on September 1, 1972

©1972 David Hamilton

David Hamilton is an Alicia Patterson Foundation award winner on leave from Newsday. This article may be published with credit to Mr. Hamilton, Newsday, and The Alicia Patterson Fund.