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When every weekend is a three-day weekend

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Each week on his day off, Broderick Shoemaker, 24, orders the same salmon sushi bowl at Kitaro Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in New York City. (Photo by Candy Cheng/CNS)

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Nena Lambert, 52, spends her Fridays off driving almost 300 miles to visit her 87-year-old mother in West Chester, Pa. (Photo by Maria Lambert)

For the employees at Vibe magazine in New York City, getting laid off was not an option.

So when the magazine had to cut costs to salvage its monthly print edition, the management and employees at Vibe decided it was better to sacrifice one workday a week than fire anyone.

“I love the magazine so much and everyone I work with, so I really hope we get past this,” said Delia Desai, an associate photo editor who took a 12.5 percent pay cut and switched to a four-day week on March 1. “In these troubled times, it’s nice to see our management do something to make sure all the employees are taken care of.”

Vibe is hardly the only employer shifting to a four-day workweek. As the economy continues its downward spiral, more companies are turning to a shorter week instead of letting employees go. In the past six months, the California Highway Patrol has made the shift, as have City Hall in Mesa, Ariz., and the Olympia, Wash., Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

But as they cut back, employers are discovering that aside from saving money, there are plenty of benefits to a four-day workweek.

Shelley Langan, a technical director for CPS Human Resource Services, said today’s employees are more vocal about setting their schedules than they were 25 or 30 years ago. “From a talent management and HR standpoint, we’re starting to see more recruitment and retention challenges, and the four-day workweek is a way for us to entice and hold on to folks. Right now, employees actually have more power to speak out loud, and they’re saying they want a better work-life balance and better benefits,” she said.

In a survey of 150 human resources directors, Rex Facer, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University, whose research team is studying the four-day-workweek concept, found that with a four-day workweek, employees are more productive, companies have lower rates of absenteeism and job satisfaction is higher.

Aside from the savings on energy, commuting time and salaries, Facer said the four-day workweek is also a good way for companies to offer employees benefits without breaking the budget. “If a company can’t provide raises, they can change the schedule to four days a week,” Facer said. “Our studies have shown that employees see that as a benefit.”

Ted Boyer certainly sees the benefits. Boyer is chairman of the Public Service Commission in Utah, whose state government was the first in the U.S. to adopt a four-day workweek, in August 2008. He oversees a staff of 15.

“Some of them use the extra time to recreate ... or do service, but the majority use the time to take care of doctor’s appointments, banking and other chores required to be done during regular business hours,” Boyer wrote in an e-mail. ”We have noticed improved morale and do not see any decrease in productivity.”

For those who are adjusting to a new work schedule, experts suggest buffering the transition by doing activities they enjoy.

“A lot of guilt can be associated with not using time wisely,” said Jordon Friedman, a stress management trainer and consultant in New York City for the past 15 years. He suggests activities such as community service, exercise and lunch dates with friends or colleagues.

Desai is using her day off from Vibe “to do things for my life and take care of myself,” she said. “I’d like to do things I’ve had to put off for years, like take cooking lessons and go to the gym more.”

Broderick Shoemaker, 24, a data manager at an Internet startup in New York City, likes to go for a run, make art and go out for a leisurely lunch on his days off. “People should really work less days, especially if you have a job where you don’t really need to be in the office,” said Shoemaker, who works 10-hour days, four days a week.

Facer, who is doing another study on four-day workweeks, also said people are better able to manage their work and family life when they are not working that fifth day. “Some people say they just try to recover on their days off. Others say they are now able to volunteer at their kids’ schools,” he said.

For Nena Lambert, 52, days off are reserved for driving almost 300 miles to visit her 87-year-old mother in West Chester, Pa.

“I really wanted to have extra time to see her because she lives so far away,” said Lambert, a secretary at a law firm in Washington, Pa., who takes off two Fridays a month. “To me, time is more valuable than money.”

But for some employees, having too much free time can add to stress.

A health care specialist for the Natural Guard, Matthew Lavoie, 28, has had Mondays off for the past two years. “The cons are having an irregularity in your schedule,” he said. Occasionally, he said, he’ll forget what he was working on when he returns to work because so much time has passed between Friday and Tuesday.

A resident of Exeter, R.I., Lavoie has toyed with the idea of volunteering at a local animal shelter. “I’m glad I have this schedule, but I sometimes think about going back to the five-day week,” Lavoie said. “Some weeks, I feel like it is just too much time off.”

E-mail: cyc2119@columbia.edu