A 20% cut shouldn't be Armageddon

Leon Panetta notified Congress that, as a result of the sequester, most of 800,000 Department of Defense civilian employees will see their work weeks shortened by 20 percent from late April through September. Predictably, his announcement was met with dire warnings about an irrevocable loss of military readiness and catastrophic vulnerability to military and terrorist threats from around the world. I don't know nearly enough about the cuts or about how the military uses its money (except for the egregious excesses like the Littoral Combat Ship or the F-22 Joint Strike Fighter), but I do know that the 20% reduction in civilian employee work hours shouldn't really be that big of a deal. Mind you, I'm not minimizing the effect on the workers' pocketbooks, just the effect on the military.

In contrast to the sackcloth-and-ashes mood relating to these cuts, consider Jason Fried, the founder of 37signals. As I wrote before. Jason's company operates on a 4-day workweek for half the year -- not just for work-life balance, but for improved productivity:

From May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less….The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five. When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.

Delivering more with less. That's a lean lesson the Pentagon -- and probably your company -- could learn from.