The Future of the 40-Hour Work Week

May 20, 2021

Since it became the U.S. standard in 1940, the 40-hour work week has been the way of life for every employee and employer around the country. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, many began questioning most aspects of the way work is performed and the 40-hour work week was no exception to that scrutiny.

 

The main objection to the 40-hour work week is that it leaves very little room for the work-life balance most employees dream of today. And with both adults in every family working full-time jobs, this balance is almost impossible to achieve.

 

But what could motivate companies to change anything about this system that has worked so well for 80 years?

 

The answer to that question is also the main reason why companies exist at all:

Increased profits.

 

You see, when work-life balance is achieved, the result is not only happier and more engaged workers, but also much more productive workers. And this is no utopia either since it has been proven in many ways across the world.

 

Companies have experimented with reduced workweeks for many years now. Some companies like Amazon have implemented 30-hour workweeks, others like Microsoft Japan tried out giving their employees 5 Fridays off during the summer of 2019 and their productivity rose by 40%.

 

Another factor to consider is an employee’s concentration span. Studies show that an employee spends no more than 6 hours per day focused on their area of expertise, with most employees admitting that the average time spent on focused work is 2 to 3 hours every day. This means that every week employees are actually only working 30 hours at most, with the real number being closer to 15 hours.

 

This is a waste of both the employee’s time and the employer’s resources. Therefore, employers should follow that by reducing the hours worked every week. This change would result in less waste and lower costs.

 

And a rise in productivity paired with a reduction in costs would translate into an increase in profits.

 

As an added benefit, reducing the 40-hour work week will also have an impact on attracting and retaining talent.

 

So, it seems that the future of the work week will change to reflect the new values of a workforce that was forced to experiment with the flexibility of remote work. They learned that they could be just as productive— and in some cases— even more so when they were able to set their own schedules around other important elements in their lives such as their family, friends, and hobbies. Instead of wasting their time in the office, they learned that they could put it to better use.

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