Seventy-nine years. There has been no decline in the standard workweek since the passing of the FLSA in 1938, 79 years ago.
In other economically rich countries, a shorter workweek has been a staple for years. The U.S. continues to lag behind many, if not most, economically wealthy countries around the world.
The average American works 34.40 hours per week, according to The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This average is at least an hour more per week than Italy, Japan, Canada, Spain, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and more.
Even one of the richest men in the world, Carlos Slim, has advocated for a 33-hour workweek consisting of three, 11 hour days.
Why has the U.S. been so slow to respond to shortening the workweek? Here we will examine the positives and negatives of a shortened workweek to consider whether or not they can make a difference.
1. Less Stress
The first positive of shorter workweeks is they can result in less stress for your employees. Stress, as you’ve likely heard, is the silent killer. This cliché rings true for both people and businesses as a whole.
Stress costs U.S. businesses an average of over $300 billion a year in stress-related health care expenses and missed work. This statistic is a catch-22 for employers because work is one of the biggest causes of stress in America.
Work related stress is so prominent in the U.S. that 55 percent of workers consider their jobs more stressful than both financial and relationship problems, according to Entrepreneur.
A shorter workweek gives employees more time to recover from work and more of a work/life balance. The more time spent away from work, the better able employees are to combat the effects of and separate themselves from work-related stress.
The University of Melbourne recently conducted a study of adults in Australia, ages 40 to 69, that demonstrated the stress-reducing effects of a shorter workweek.
This study found that shorter workweeks helped to reduce the amount of fatigue and stress that can damage cognitive functions.
The study demonstrated that 25-30 hour workweeks had a beneficial cognitive impact (by reducing the stress from work) on men, and 22-27 hour workweeks helped women.
2. Improved Recruiting
Another positive of shorter workweeks is that it provides a boost your company’s recruiting profile. According to CNN Money, 5 percent of large U.S. companies and 14 percent of small ones offer short work weeks.
If your business is one of the few to offer a shorter work week, you will likely have a serious edge over most of your competition. As more employers begin to offer flexible work options, you can separate yourself through shortened workweeks.
3. Happier Employees
One of the positives of a shorter workweek is improved employee morale. Having a greater work/life balance is key to having a positive office morale.
Accounting giant KPMG instituted a four-day workweek and discovered that employees found great satisfaction in having control over their time. The short workweek increased employee morale.
At Treehouse, an online education company, 32-hour workweeks led to happier employees. According to CEO Ryan Carson, there was a palpable boost in employee morale throughout the office.
Swedish nursing home staff, when given four-day workweeks reported they were 20 percent happier than before, which resulted in a higher quality of care for patients according to management.
4. Lower Turnover
Lower turnover is another positive result of short workweeks. KPMG experienced an increase in employee retention after instituting their shorter workweeks.
Tax services firm Ryan started using compressed weeks and found similar success in retaining staff. After 2008, when the program began, the company has seen its employee turnover drop from 30 to 11 percent.
5. Improves Workplace Gender Equality
Shorter workweeks are a significant tool to help your business combat workplace gender inequality. Many couples today are two-earner families, and the amount of time these couples work has steadily increased.
It is increasingly rare that there is one partner at home who can focus all of their attention on taking care of the children, house, and the thousands of other details that make up daily living.
Having a shorter workweek helps bring equality to the household by allowing both men and women to have more time for housework and child care.
As Madeline White of the Sydney Morning Herald says, “It’s not just about getting women into work, it’s about getting men to go home.” A four-day workweek could free up men to take care of their kids and the home while more women work part-time hours.
6. Promote a Greener Business
If your business promotes itself and its employees as a “green” business, a shortened workweek is another way to show your support as an eco-friendly company. A shorter workweek means less travel being done for commutes.
HealthLine reported that a 10 percent reduction in an individual’s work hours results in a 15 percent decrease in a person’s carbon footprint.
Additionally, a Swedish experiment found that a decrease in work time by 1 percent corresponds to a .8 percent reduction in household greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
7. Healthier Employees
One constant with any survey or study of short workweeks is that they have a large positive impact on your employees’ health.
According to the Center for a New American Dream, employees that work more than 11 hours a day are 2.5 times more likely to develop depression. They are also 60 (!!) times more likely to develop heart disease.
Sweden discovered that staff in nursing homes, when given a four-day workweek, took half as much sick time as those in the control group.
Healthier employees benefit your organization twofold. The first reason being, healthier employees are more productive. Not only are healthy employees more productive while at work, but they are less likely to miss work (Which increases organizational productivity).
Another reason healthy employees benefit your organization is through the cost of their medical coverage. The healthier an individual is, the less expensive it will be for your business to provide that individual health insurance.
8. Greater Productivity
Research from a 2014 Stanford University paper indicated that there was a non-linear relationship between hours worked and output. Meaning, the correlation between how much someone worked and their productivity had a weak correlation.
Similarly, in his research, Professor K. Anders Ericsson, found the notion that longer work hours lead to greater productivity is a fallacy. Professor Ericsson found that a longer work day doesn’t result in improved production, it creates burnout.
In Sweden, nurses with shorter workweeks were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week timeframe. Furthermore, these employees did 64 percent more activities with residents than before.
Not only do longer workweeks have a negligible effect on productivity, but they can also lead to more mistakes. A study by the Families and Work Institute found that employees who feel overworked often make more mistakes.
1. More Employees
If your business requires around-the-clock employees, or longer hours than the typical business (Such as hospitals, or retail stores), then you will be forced to hire more employees to ensure that all your hours are covered.
The nursing homes in Sweden experienced this occurrence. BenefitsPro reported that to cover the reduced hours for 68 nurses, the home had to hire extra staff at the cost of around $1.3 million dollars.
In addition to an increase in costs, just managing and maintaining more employees is another negative itself. The more employees a business has, the more difficult management becomes on almost every level.
2. Mismatched Schedules
If you run a company in an industry that typically follows a traditional work day, your business may run into difficulties interacting with more traditional companies.
For example, if your business has every Friday off then companies using a five-day workweek won’t be able to communicate with your employees for one entire working day. This kind of mismatching schedule could strain communication between businesses.
Communication is the key to any relationship, especially a business one. An entire day of work with little or no communication could result in increased friction and tension in your business relationship. This tension could create negative business results for your company.
As with any decision, there are both positives and negatives to a reduced workweek. Every business is unique, and a shortened workweek may not be the best choice for your particular situation.
Still, for many businesses, a shorter workweek brings a number of positives. If applied properly, your company could use this benefit to strengthen your business.
Use a shorter workweek to ensure your company’s work isn’t weak.