The working world in America is based around the standard 40-hour workweek. That’s 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. But does it have to be? In this blog, we’ll examine three theories that power flexible work schedule that are common in today’s workplace.
For most of us, just thinking about a 40-hour workweek causes a slight headache. But imagine it’s 1890 when the average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was 100 hours. Wowzers! Break out the aspirin!
Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better for the American workforce. In 2014, a Gallup poll found that adults employed full time work an average of 47 hours per week. And, that number has held virtually constant since Gallup started asking that question back in 2001.
It’s no wonder that so many of us feel overworked. We ARE overworked! Perhaps that’s why it’s so enticing to dream about the 30-hour workweek or the 4-hour workday.
Theory One: The 30-Hour Workweek is Best
Some people point to the 5-days-a-week grind as the thing that wears them down. To make things better, they say, everyone should work a 30-hour workweek amounting to just 4 days a week. When you think about it, having to work only 4 days a week instead of 5 sounds great.
The idea isn’t unheard of or outlandish. In 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes expected that, by 2030, there would be a system of almost total “technological unemployment” in which no one would need to work more than 15 hours a week. For good, or for bad, we haven’t gotten that far yet with automation and artificial intelligence. But, that doesn’t need to stop us from wanting to work only 4 days a week.
Working for 30 hours each week gives you a perpetual 3-day weekend! There’s no more need to wait until that strategically placed Friday or Monday holiday to veg out on your couch or take a relaxing trip. If you want to get your weekend started early, begin your workweek on Mondays. If you hate Mondays, work out an arrangement for you to begin your work week on Tuesdays.
With an extra day in your pocket, the world is your oyster. You can spend more time with friends and loved ones. Or, you can binge-watch those shows you’ve been missing because you are too tired from work to watch them. Regardless of what you want to do, you have an uninterrupted three-day break during which do it. How’s that for a healthy work/life balance?
However, the only way this works for society is that employers would have to pay the same for 30-hours of work than they do for 40-hours of work. If they don’t, then the system is unsustainable. Very few of us can live on 75% of our current income.
Theory Two: The 4-Hour Workday Is Best
Some people point to the 8-hour daily grind as the thing that wears them down. To make things better, they say, everyone should work a 4-hour workday. When you think about it, having to work only 4 hours each day sounds great.
After all, it was Ben Franklin who once wrote, “It has been computed by some political arithmetician, that, if every man and woman would work for 4 hours each day on something useful, that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life, want and misery would be banished out of the world, and the rest of the 24 hours might be leisure and pleasure.” Want and misery would be banished! Banished!
When you work 4 hours a day, you get to work by 8:00 or 9:00 and you walk out of the door around Noon or 1:00. How great is that?
Remember when you were a kid and got an early release from school. Wasn’t that fun? You had the rest of the day to play. Now that you’re all grown up, you have lots of time to do grown-up things.
Whether you worked the morning, afternoon, evening, night, or early-morning shift, you can spend more time each day with your family, your friends, or yourself. Pursuing your passions doesn’t have to wait until the weekend. That’s because you have enough time each day to immerse yourself in the things you love.
Unfortunately, a 4-hour workday doesn’t solve the problem of sitting in the rush-hour traffic. In fact, it makes traffic worse. Because there are would need to be so many 4-hour shifts, we would all experience an almost perpetual traffic jam.
Then you get the same problem as you get with the 30-hour workweek. Will the employer value your time enough to pay you what you’re worth? No one can afford to live on half of their wages or salary.
Theory Three: Either Is Possible
Just a little leadership is all that it may take to make a lighter workweek possible. After all, in addition to the hard work of unions more than 100 years ago, it was Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company who decided that his company would scale back from a 48-hour to a 40-hour workweek. He did so because he believed that working too many hours was bad for workers’ productivity.
If you aren’t encouraged by the Henry Ford reference, think about this. Did you know that back in 1932 Senator Hugo Black and Representative William P. Connery introduced a bill to reduce unemployment during the Great Depression by setting a 30-hour maximum workweek? The labor-union-backed Black-Connery bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. Even though the bill had wide public support, it’s likely that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would have vetoed it anyway.
Even so, with a bit of effort, the 40-hour workweek can be a thing of the past. History has already shown us what’s possible.