The future of work

Recalibrating: An argument for the four-day work week

In Short

I am concerned for the wellbeing of my full-time staff coming out of working 16-hour days during summer, so I pitched an idea to my board: Fridays off for the 40 weeks between camping seasons.

“You’re a camp director – that’s so great. What do you do the rest of the year?”

Overnight residential camps are open for over three months a year around the clock. As for the rest of the year, I spend much of my time recruiting staff and campers, managing our full-time team, board and business manager, running a retreat business and doing other camp-related activities while also running an extremely lean agency that requires fundraising, marketing and other traditional business functions like budgeting and negotiating with vendors. 

I get it, being a camp professional isn’t a normal 9-to-5 job, but I am very busy year-round.

The reality is that recruiting events are often on Sundays. We partner with community agencies on events that promote camp and gather our campers together – often on Sundays or in the evenings, or sometimes for havdalah or even Shabbat. We attend our agency’s committee and board meetings which usually take place on weekday evenings. In any given week during the rest of the year, our team might be working almost as much as any week in the summer. And of course, our year-round staff also make huge sacrifices by leaving family and friends each summer. Just last year I missed one of my (camp) best friend’s summer wedding in Colorado – an occupational hazard of this profession.

I did the math. Our full-time team members work more than 2,950 hours each year. My wife, who used to work for a big law firm, tells me that these are the kind of hours she was expected to bill to clients, but big law firm salaries are five times larger and the burnout and negative effects on mental health are notorious – not something to aspire to. In comparison, the average American worker works 2,080 hours annually.

I have been reading a lot about the four-day work week as the future of work. The evidence is compelling – in addition to being overwhelmingly supported by workers and a huge benefit for companies trying to attract talent, there is support that the four-day work week actually generates more productivity, creativity and engagement. Other benefits include creating more equitable workplaces and less environmental impact, two Jewish values and organizational priorities. Most relevant to those of us grappling with a “post-pandemic” world, employees are less stressed and the mental health outcomes are better. 

I am concerned for the well-being of my full-time staff coming out of working 16-hour days during summer, so I pitched an idea to my board: Fridays off for the 40 weeks between camping seasons. 

Our board is made up of doctors and lawyers, HR professionals, marketing gurus, business leaders and nonprofit employees and luckily, they understood these benefits right away and supported this plan wholeheartedly. In the ideal, our staff will be able to put down their phones and have Friday and Shabbat off each week to rest. Some weeks, it won’t be possible – there will still be the occasional retreat groups, Shabbat program, a community event or donor meeting that simply has to happen on a Friday, but I fully expect to see my well-rested team rejuvenated, more productive, sharper, happier and healthier on Monday mornings having reclaimed 300 hours per calendar year. 

Overnight camps are an outlier as an employer in the Jewish communal landscape in ways too numerous to list, but 2900+ hours a year of work is not and should not be a point of pride. For us to do our best work, be our best selves to our campers, families and seasonal staff – and to live our values – this small step is a way for camps to be leaders in the Jewish community. I hope all of you in the camping field, whether lay or professional, think about your agency and what you can do to help your team recharge and stay engaged for years to come. While this model might not be right for everyone, it is all of us trying, failing, and succeeding that will move the field forward. 

 Max Yamson is the executive director of Camp Livingston. He has been active in Cincinnati’s Jewish community for many years having served as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and on the YAD (young adult division) board as well as on the executive committee of Jewish Family Service. Max currently is a board member of CircleTail, an ADI accredited organization in Cincinnati that trains and partners service, hearing and facility dogs.