Thoughts with Richard Bleil
They gave me nitroglycerine pills in the ambulance on my way to the emergency room. For those who don’t know, that means it was a “cardiac incident”, more commonly known as a heart attack. This is different from a stroke, which occurs in the brain, typically by clogged arteries. My clogged arteries were in my heart, so badly that eventually I had to have a triple bypass. Unfortunately, it was also Friday.
The doctor consulted with me, and verified that, yes, indeed, it was a heart attack. Then he said something that, frankly, I never would have expected out of a doctor’s mouth. “Normally,” he told me, “we take care of this kind of thing immediately, but it’s Friday and nobody wants to work.”
Okay, it may not be a direct quote, but I’m pretty sure that it is. It was many years ago (I’m due for my next heart attack any day now), but it is close enough to be a paraphrase. I’ll never forget him telling me that, though. It’s Friday, and nobody wants to work.
Frankly, there are two days that I really don’t like doing business, especially if it’s something new. Friday is one of them and for this very reason. People aren’t thinking about their job, so if they need to start a new file, or do anything with any level of complexity, I personally believe that they are more likely to make mistakes.
I’m sure you can anticipate that the other day I don’t like doing business is Monday. After a weekend, and finally getting some sleep, I believe people will have trouble waking up and getting started on Mondays. I prefer Mondays to Fridays, but honestly, I’d rather go through the middle of the week.
Working as the forensic lab director, I was earning two weeks of vacation a year, with a maximum accumulation of five weeks. The city wouldn’t compensate for unused days, and I always enjoy building up as many vacation weeks as possible so, if I should want to take an extended vacation (say, for example, to travel) then I have the days to do it. I did this in that position.
That means that I worked for two and a half years without any vacations outside of the normal federally recognized holidays. After that, I was required to take a vacation day at least once every five weeks. Most people would choose either Friday or Monday as vacation days to extend their weekends, but I never liked this idea. On a Friday, the week before is largely wasted as I just want to get to the long weekend. On Monday, I never wanted to return after three days off. Me? I took Wednesdays off.
That broke up the week. It felt like I had two weekends in a single week then, a two day, followed by a one-day vacation. I was better rested, less distracted at work, and Wednesdays are the best for going out to do things because it’s probably the least busy day for things like shopping or going to attractions like museums and zoos.
There has been the idea floating around of four-day workweeks. These ideas consist either of either thirty or thirty-five hour workweeks, or ten hour days for four days a week rather than five. If my hypothesis is correct, this might help boost productivity since Fridays and Mondays are often reduced productivity anyway. Of course, there’s a potential problem with this as well. It’s possible that, if we went with one of these schemes, the increased productivity would be temporary anyway. After so long, it’s possible that the first- and last-day doldrums would simply return once the novelty wore off.
The business landscape in our nation has certainly been changing. As dean, I had an advisor who wanted to work at home, and I saw no reason that she couldn’t since her work was always done on the computer or phone, but my boss dismissed the idea out of hand. I felt bad telling her that it was not possible, but that I wouldn’t forget it. Of course, I lost my job before I could bring it up again, but Covid suddenly brought a new problem to business. The necessity of shutting down physical office, one of two choices presented themselves, namely, complete or near-complete closure or adaptation to remote work. I wish I was still there when this happened to see if they changed their tunes, but the question came up as to what must be done in an office, and what can be done remotely and how remote work would look. It forced businesses to be creative to figure out how to determine an appropriate workday. Was it a matter of making sure that they were typing on their system (as an employee in Canada just discovered can be monitored), or is there an appropriate level of work output? It will be interesting to see how the work environment evolves from here.