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Nine-eighty

I was fascinated by the following in this LM Sixel column about Mayor White encouraging local businesses to offer more flexible work schedules as a way of reducing traffic at peak hours.

Direct Energy Texas, for example, had to deal with the stigma attached to signing up for a “nine-80” shift (10 days of work crammed into nine workdays) or working from home.

Only 10 percent of the 220 employees who worked in what the company had identified as eligible jobs signed up for the program when it was launched, recalled Phil Tonge, Direct Energy’s president.

“People were very worried,” he said.

But Tonge knew employees wanted a compressed workweek or to telecommute because of their responses to a 2004 survey. They were frustrated with the time they spent in traffic getting to and from work, and with White’s mobility campaign to Get Houston Moving, it was a perfect opportunity to put the two ideas together, he said.

So Tonge held a series of meetings to encourage employees to sign up. He emphasized it had his full support, and he put pressure on managers to sign on to the idea.

To make telecommuting easier, the company bought laptops for some workers and provided them for departments to share.

As a result, 65 percent of its eligible employees in Texas are participating, and the company is looking for ways to include more job classifications in its program.

I’ve been on a 9/80 schedule for about a decade now. I love it, and I’ve loved it from the get-go. Having that Friday off to get stuff done – heck, just having that extra day in the weekend every other week – is wonderful. I dread the idea of ever having to go back to a “normal” workweek. As such, I’m at a loss to understand why so many Direct Energy employees would have resisted this. Nine-eighty acceptance was darned near universal when we adopted it where I work.

Harold Reddish, president of S&B Infrastructure, wasn’t thinking a lot about compressed workweeks last summer. But the head of the engineering company soon found himself pondering schedules based on four 10-hour days, among others, because its petrochemical business was booming.

“We needed a lot of people fast,” Reddish said. “We had trouble finding them.”

Many applicants wanted to work four 10-hour days and have Fridays off, he said. They also wanted to decide which hours to work between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Don’t know if they still do, but USAA had this schedule back when I was a summer employee in the late 80s. It too was great, though there were two hitches to their implementation of it. One, if the week contained a holiday, you had to work on Friday. I believe the only exception was Thanksgiving, but since I was there from May to August, I couldn’t swear to it. Two, as an hourly employee they subtracted a half hour each day for lunch, so I only got paid for 38 hours each week. I was making $5 an hour, so I looked at it as trading $10 a week for a three-day weekend almost every week. Needless to say, that was a trade I was happy to make.

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3 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    When we were in California, I was working a 4×10 for a while. Unlike most people who wanted Friday (or maybe Monday) off, I usually took Wednesdays off.

    There is something to be said for never having to work more than two days in a row. Of course, if we were going away for the weekend, I could take Monday or Friday instead.

    Here I only live a half-mile from the office, so I don’t bother with telecommuting (unless I need to be home) or with compressed work weeks. It’s not like I have to suffer through a horrific commute.

  2. Mathwiz says:

    Not sure how the 9-80 works, but I’m guessing it’s 9 hrs/day Mon-Thurs, and an 8-hour day every other Friday.

    If so, I know a lot of folks whom it would appeal to. As you say, having a “work” day off every other week gives you a perfect opportunity to go to the bank, the post office, or anyplace else that’s normally closed nights and weekends. (And like Tim, I like the idea of working 4×10 and taking Wednesdays off instead of Fridays.)

    But there’s also a lot whom it wouldn’t appeal to. I work an 8.5-hour day (no Friday breaks, though; mandatory overtime) with a 1-hour lunch; the 9-80 schedule sounds similar except for shorter lunches and nicer Fridays. And even with a short 30-minute commute to/from work, once you add 8 hours of sleep and 1/2 hour to get dressed in the morning, that only leaves 5 hours out of every 24-hour workday. If you have a longer commute, it’d be even tougher to take care of daily tasks – especially with kids!

    I’ve long thought the U.S. should take a hint from the rest of the industrialized world and shorten its workweek further. A 36-hour week seems like a convenient number – one could work four 8-hour days and 4 hours on Friday, four 9-hour days with a day off, or even three 12-hour days – and it could be phased in over several years along with a minimum wage increase. (This would’ve been easy during the better economy of the 90’s. A missed opportunity.)

    But of course, that’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

  3. Not sure how the 9-80 works, but I’m guessing it’s 9 hrs/day Mon-Thurs, and an 8-hour day every other Friday.

    At our office at least, that’s exactly how it works.