couples

Why everyone should work a 4-day week

I had no plans to return to full-time work until my youngest child started "big school". Then my dream job landed on my lap, two years too early.

Bugger.

I have a list of jobs I've said "no" to since becoming a mum and some of them are pretty bloody impressive. I imagined myself emailing the list through to my children when they are all teenagers and torturing me: 'See what I gave up for you!"

But this job was different. Unlike the other jobs I'd been offered it was flexible. The saddest part of trying to return to the workforce after becoming a mother is that all my years of experience and qualifications meant nothing when it came to trying to find a job that fell within school hours. I know so many highly qualified women who are capable of so much more than the jobs they are being offered. But we are so limited.

It's not fair.

So, after my husband gave me the thumbs up (his exact words were "if you turn this down you'll never forgive yourself) I started quizzing every working mum I came across.

I talked to mums at soccer, at swimming, at both schools and one mum was subjected to my interrogation in the checkout at the grocery store.

Do you work?

How many days do you work?

What are the hours?

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What do you do during the school holidays?

What do you do when the kids are sick?

Do you drive to work or catch public transport?

Who do you call if you get caught up at work, in traffic or if the bus or train breaks down?

Are your children in pre-school?

Do you use a nanny?

I discovered that every mum thought long and hard about the logistics of returning to work. It all came down to short working weeks and a lot of organisation. Everything is planned, packed and prepared. Nothing is left to chance.

Most mums agreed that two days a week at work wasn't enough but three to four was a good amount. Five days was too much unless the kids were all in primary school, or they had husbands and partners who were able to help out at home on a regular basis.

One mum drops her son at before-school care so she can spend an hour driving to the office.

Another mum has a nanny help out two afternoons each week.

Many live close to family and friends who help.

For most it's a combination of all of the above.

I was offered three short days in the office and the rest I can do from home. Next year it will move to four days a week.

Research psychologist Peggy Drexler says offering employees a four day working week actually increases productivity and job satisfation. She says it helps retain talented workers and shouldn't only be offered to mums.

She suggests all staff work the same hours. That's when the benefits to employers start to show

Peggy told CNN about a woman called Gina who owns a busy graphic design firm. She and her staff work four days a week only. She made the change after she had knee surgery and felt bad taking an extra day to rest while the rest of her staff was working. It was meant to be temporary but it worked out so well she decided to maintain it.

They work from Monday to Thursday. They get in early, get all their work done, are happy to be there, are productive and are more efficient.

Gina said, "They were using the extra day off to spend time with their families, do errands and take long weekends away, but also to schedule appointments they might otherwise have taken an afternoon off to attend." She says her staff take fewer holidays and hardly ever take sick leave.

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The four-day work week was first introduced in the 1950s by American labour union leader Walter Reuther but most employers are reluctant to implement it.

Earlier this year Facebook executive Nicola Mendelsohn reportedly negotiated a four-day working week so she could spend more time with her family and it sparked a huge debate. Is it fair for mums to be offered flexible working arrangements when others are not? Is it costly to employers when employees work less than five days a week?

It doesn't make sense for all industries. In Utah the four-day work week was introduced for state employees in 2008 and it did increase productivity and worker satisfaction but residents complained about not having access to services on Fridays, so three years later they went back to a five-day working week.

Do you work a short week or do you have a flexible arrangement?

How do your fellow employees without kids respond to your special arrangement?

Peggy Drexler

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

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