venezuela 2 day workweek romo pkg_00013813.jpg
venezuela 2 day workweek romo pkg_00013813.jpg
Now playing
02:07
Government workers get two-day workweek in Venezuela
TOPSHOT - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a national flag during the closing of the campaign to elect a Constituent Assembly that would rewrite the constitution, in Caracas on July 27, 2017 on the second day of a 48-hour general strike called by the opposition.
Venezuela's opposition called for a nationwide protest on Friday in outright defiance of a new government ban on demonstrations ahead of a controversial weekend election. "The regime declared we can't demonstrate... We will respond with the TAKING OF VENEZUELA tomorrow," the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, said Thursday on its Twitter account.
 / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA        (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a national flag during the closing of the campaign to elect a Constituent Assembly that would rewrite the constitution, in Caracas on July 27, 2017 on the second day of a 48-hour general strike called by the opposition. Venezuela's opposition called for a nationwide protest on Friday in outright defiance of a new government ban on demonstrations ahead of a controversial weekend election. "The regime declared we can't demonstrate... We will respond with the TAKING OF VENEZUELA tomorrow," the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, said Thursday on its Twitter account. / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:46
US met with Venezuela officers plotting coup
Venezuelan citizens wait in line to cross to Ecuador at the Rumichaca international bridge in Ipiales, Colombia, on August 11, 2018. - The "unusual" increase in the migratory flow of Venezuelans, which reached 4,200 people a day, prompeted Ecuador to declare state of emergency in provinces bordering Peru and Colombia. (Photo by LEONARDO CASTRO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read LEONARDO CASTRO/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: LEONARDO CASTRO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuelan citizens wait in line to cross to Ecuador at the Rumichaca international bridge in Ipiales, Colombia, on August 11, 2018. - The "unusual" increase in the migratory flow of Venezuelans, which reached 4,200 people a day, prompeted Ecuador to declare state of emergency in provinces bordering Peru and Colombia. (Photo by LEONARDO CASTRO / AFP) (Photo credit should read LEONARDO CASTRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Chaos in Venezuela triggers mass exodus
detonaciones desfile militar caracas maduro ruidos brk mirador mundial osmary hernandez_00004223.jpg
PHOTO: vtv
detonaciones desfile militar caracas maduro ruidos brk mirador mundial osmary hernandez_00004223.jpg
Now playing
02:18
Venezuelan President evacuated from stage
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30:  (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Rose Garden at the White House April 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. The two leaders also met in the Oval Office to discuss a range of bilateral issues earlier in the day.  (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
PHOTO: he Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the Rose Garden at the White House April 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. The two leaders also met in the Oval Office to discuss a range of bilateral issues earlier in the day. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:59
Trump asked advisers about invading Venezuela
venezuela prison riot joshua holt newton lkl_00004530.jpg
PHOTO: Facebook/Josh Holt
venezuela prison riot joshua holt newton lkl_00004530.jpg
Now playing
02:03
American jailed in Venezuela fears for life
 Carolina Wong and Jorge Salas sit with their daughter, Akira, before they leave Venezuela for Peru.
PHOTO: Khushbu Shah/CNN
Carolina Wong and Jorge Salas sit with their daughter, Akira, before they leave Venezuela for Peru.
Now playing
01:54
Family tearfully leaves Venezuela
Now playing
01:30
Dad remembers son killed in Venezuelan unrest
Demonstrators clash with the police during a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on April 19, 2017.
Venezuela braced for rival demonstrations Wednesday for and against President Nicolas Maduro, whose push to tighten his grip on power has triggered waves of deadly unrest that have escalated the country's political and economic crisis. / AFP PHOTO / Juan BARRETO        (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators clash with the police during a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on April 19, 2017. Venezuela braced for rival demonstrations Wednesday for and against President Nicolas Maduro, whose push to tighten his grip on power has triggered waves of deadly unrest that have escalated the country's political and economic crisis. / AFP PHOTO / Juan BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:54
Why Venezuelans are protesting
venezuelan flag
venezuelan flag
Now playing
01:19
Venezuela to US: Military action a 'crazy act'
Now playing
01:36
Panetta on Trump: This is not reality TV
PHOTO: Lilian Tintori
Now playing
02:09
Venezuela: Opposition leaders seized
Voters receive instructions by a Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard officer outside a polling station during the election for a constitutional assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, July 30, 2017.
PHOTO: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Voters receive instructions by a Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard officer outside a polling station during the election for a constitutional assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, July 30, 2017.
Now playing
00:56
Venezuelan candidate shot dead before election
Anti-government activists set up a barricade during protests of the election for a Constituent Assembly in Caracas on July 30, 2017. Deadly violence erupted around the controversial vote, with a candidate to the all-powerful body being elected shot dead and troops firing weapons to clear protesters in Caracas and elsewhere.
PHOTO: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-government activists set up a barricade during protests of the election for a Constituent Assembly in Caracas on July 30, 2017. Deadly violence erupted around the controversial vote, with a candidate to the all-powerful body being elected shot dead and troops firing weapons to clear protesters in Caracas and elsewhere.
Now playing
01:27
Violent protests over Venezuelan election
Masked opposition demonstrators take part in clashes with riot police ensuing an anti-government protest in Caracas, on July 26, 2017.
Venezuelans blocked off deserted streets Wednesday as a 48-hour opposition-led general strike aimed at thwarting embattled President Nicolas Maduro's controversial plans to rewrite the country's constitution got underway. / AFP PHOTO / FEDERICO PARRA        (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Masked opposition demonstrators take part in clashes with riot police ensuing an anti-government protest in Caracas, on July 26, 2017. Venezuelans blocked off deserted streets Wednesday as a 48-hour opposition-led general strike aimed at thwarting embattled President Nicolas Maduro's controversial plans to rewrite the country's constitution got underway. / AFP PHOTO / FEDERICO PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:49
Why Venezuela is in crisis
Venezuela caught in chaos newton dnt_00000000.jpg
Venezuela caught in chaos newton dnt_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:46
Caught in the chaos in Venezuela

Story highlights

Work still needs to get done in the same amount of total time

Fatigue and stress accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day

Many employers and employees love the thought of a four-day workweek. Supposedly, a four-day work schedule allows workers extra time to pursue leisure activities and family togetherness. Spurred on by visions of spending more time at the beach, many people are now encouraging businesses to adopt this kind of work plan.

There are many purported advantages. Some authorities say that a four-day work schedule facilitates the ability to provide child care and assistance for the elderly.

Proponents of such “compressed” work schedules – those in which employees work longer hours for fewer days of the week — point to gains in productivity that result from decreased overhead costs, such as not having to keep the lights on when nobody is working. Additional cost savings can be obtained from reducing total weekly commuting time.

A variety of business have tested the four-day concept, including Amazon, Google, Deloitte and a host of smaller firms. Amazon announced in late August that it is experimenting with an even shorter workweek of 30 hours for select employees, who would earn 75 percent of their full-time salary, should they choose to opt in.

How on-call and irregular scheduling harm the American workforce

Many of the pilot programs have shown promising results. Statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that 31 percent of employees were in a compressed workweek schedule as of 2015. That’s the case, however, for only 5 percent of large companies.

This is an issue in which I have considerable experience. I have been studying the health effects of long working hours for nearly 30 years. All the studies point to the potential dangers that can occur as the result of the additional risks created when work demands exceed a particular threshold. Most of the studies I have performed suggest that the dangers are most pronounced when people regularly work more than 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week.

It sounded like a good idea

The idea of a four-day workweek is not new. Labor experts have been studying and advocating these approaches since the 1970s. For example, in 2008, researchers from Brigham Young University conducted a series of surveys among employees and community members to assess their perspectives about a four-day workweek. The researchers found that about four-fifths of the employees reported a positive experience working that type of schedule.

Based on these positive results, Utah’s governor enacted a mandatory four-day workweek for all state employees. The state’s goal was to curb energy costs, improve air quality, ensure that needed services would still be available (for instance, garbage collection) and help to recruit and retain state employees. In 2011, however, Utah reversed course, saying that savings never materialized.

Could flexible working hours be the answer to the sleep-loss epidemic?

Other research has also supported the development and adoption of compressed work schedules. A 1989 study found that compressed schedules (PDF) were related to high levels of job satisfaction and employees’ satisfaction with their work schedules; supervisors also reported they were pleased with the four-day workweek schedules.

Are there hidden dangers?

Despite the widespread enthusiasm for a four-day week, I am not convinced that kind of schedule is beneficial for employees or for businesses. The primary problem with the idea is that whatever work needs to be done, needs to get done in the same amount of total time. Despite wishes to the contrary, there are still only 24 hours in a day.

The math is simple: working five eight-hour shifts is equivalent to working four 10-hour shifts. That’s true. But the implications of these schedules are different. The danger is in disregarding the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day.

I performed a study showing that the risk of suffering an industrial accident is raised by 37 percent for employees working more than 12 hours in a day. The risk is 61 percent higher for people in “overtime” shifts. Working more than 60 hours in a week is related to an additional injury risk of 23 percent. As the hours worked in those schedules increase, the risks grow accordingly.

More recently, Dr. Xiaoxi Yao, a colleague of mine who is now at the Mayo Clinic, and I recently performed another study using 32 years of work-hour information to analyze the relationship between long working hours over many years and the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic disease later in life. We found that the dangers were quite substantial, especially for women.

Women working more than 60 hours per week, equivalent to 12 hours per day, were more than three times as likely to eventually suffer heart disease, cancer, arthritis or diabetes, and more than twice as likely to have chronic lung disease or asthma, as women working a conventional 40-hour workweek. Working just a bit more, an average of 41 to 50 hours per week, over many years appeared to substantially increase the long-term risk of disease.

These studies show that not all hours are created equal. The research suggests that harm may occur past a certain point. A four-day week causes workers to squeeze more hours than usual into a day. For workers who are already prone to overwork, the additional burden of compressing five days into four could literally break the camel’s – or worker’s – back.

Is the stress worth it?

Besides the health issues, employers and workers also need to consider the effect that compressing hours into a four-day period has on workers’ mental health, stress levels and fatigue.

Every weekend could be four days long if the will was there

Occupational psychologists realize that people do not function as effectively when tired or stressed. This may be even more of a concern for older persons.

Moreover, just squeezing five days of 10-hour-a-day work into a compressed 40-hour schedule can create more rigidity and reduced flexibility for families and children. For example, if the two additional work hours per day are added onto a conventional day schedule that begins in the morning at approximately 8 or 9 a.m. and extends into the late afternoon hours at about 4 to 5 p.m., then many working parents will lose the ability to interact with their children just at the “prime time” of about 5 to 7 p.m. when kids otherwise would be most likely to be in the house and potentially available to socialize with their siblings and parents – before their bedtime arrives.

There are many obvious ways to address these concerns and make life easier for workers and their families. Don’t overwork. Don’t stay too long at work. Find a job with an employer that has flexible working hours.

Follow CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter

  • See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but the prospect of a four-day week scares me. I already have a hard enough time getting my regular weekly work done over five days. And it’s always so tempting to glance at my work email – just a couple more notes to jot down.

Instead, why not just pull back at a certain point? Maybe it’s time to take Friday off every so often. How about ending work at noon on Fridays, as is the practice of many Jews, to bring in the weekend in a gradual way? The trade-off, if necessary, would involve adding a small increase of one hour per day to the normal Monday through Friday schedule. That approach is actually my personal favorite.

My friend Lonnie Golden, a professor at Pennsylvania State University - Abington, advocates adopting a “Goldilocks” workweek: one that is not too long, not too short and that satisfies the employer’s interest in productivity and the employee’s interest in attaining good health and well-being.

Allard Dembe is a professor of public health at The Ohio State University.