Is the 40 Hour Work Week Too Long? Evidence Suggests Yes!
Are you exhausted at the end of the work week? Do you work more than five days a week? Do you wish you had more time for yourself? Turns out, you’re not just being lazy. A recent experiment proves that workers are more productive with a four day work week.
The five day work week was a hard-fought victory for labor rights of the early 1900s. However, in practice, only 42% of American workers fall into the 40-hour work schedule. Most work at least 47 hours a week. It should also be noted that Americans take less vacation time and work more consecutive hours than most if not all westernized countries around the globe. What if we have the wrong idea? What if we are working our employees so hard that it is actually a detriment to productivity?
A Better Way?
By normal logic, fewer hours worked would lead to less work accomplished. However, several experiments have proven that this is not the case. A firm in New Zealand tested a four day work week and found that not only did productivity not suffer, it improved. Similar results were found when a Scottish firm tried six-hour work days. How is this possible?
If you think employees are working all eight hours of their scheduled time, you are sorely mistaken. Not only are employees not productive for all eight hours of the day; but the real number is more like three! Two hours and Fifty-three minutes to be exact. This is not due to the laziness of workers. It is the capacity a human brain has to concentrate on a particular task, specifically if they wouldn’t care much about it otherwise. The rest of the day is filled with reading news stories, making food, chatting with co-workers, and doing dozens of other miscellaneous tasks.
If you’re an employer, this doesn’t mean that you should crack down on your staff to work harder throughout the day. On the contrary, it means the exact opposite. Employees do their best work about three hours a day. In a normal work week that’s 15 hours of constructive work. That’s 25 hours without productivity.
This is the meat and potatoes of the “shorten the work week movement.” Not only is the time wasted anyway, but with a shorter week, companies have been shown to work harder in the time they are on duty. It is important that employers realize that this is not an excuse to pay their workers less. A better-rested staff is more productive, more eager to work, and less checked-out than a staff that is just filling hours to collect a check.
Still not convinced? Of the two high profiles shortened work-week experiments that have been recently conducted, not only have both found positive results; but both are exploring ways to make the change permanent.
The Best is Yet to Come
There is no question that things are changing. The norms of the past simply don’t fit the modern paradigm. Optimizing working hours just makes good sense. It is not an excuse to pay your workers less. It is a method of increasing the amount and quality of the work they already do. It can seem like employers are paying the same amount and getting less, but experiment after experiment is proving that that is not the case.
Moreover, as the work of the average employee moves further and further digital, the idea of workers coming into an office at all becomes more and more obsolete. We may reach a point where all workers work from home on their own time. Only time will tell.