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How a 15-Hour Workweek Could Change Our Lives for the Better

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15-hour work • week
noun

1. Exactly what it sounds like—less work for the same money

I work nearly three times that much now. Is this normal?

Sadly, yes. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development shows that American workers put in an average of 1,786 hours annually, 200 more hours than their British and French peers. Yet study after study reveals that working more hours doesn’t increase productivity—just stress, health issues and carbon emissions.

How much less should I be working?

An often-cited 2016 study found that workers performed best when they were clocking in just three days a week, five hours a day. Advocates of a 15-hour workweek, such as Dutch author Rutger Bregman, argue that much of the work we do now is pointless at best and harmful at worst, so we should do much less of it. Major trade unions in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the U.K. have all backed a four-day workweek, and the British Labour Party’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised to reduce the average workweek to 32 hours within the next decade, proclaiming, “We should work to live, not live to work.” Microsoft Japan experimented with a shorter workweek and trumpeted that it actually boosted productivity and cut down on time-wasting.

What about in the United States?

Thanks perhaps to a national case of workaholism, until recently it was self-proclaimed do-gooder CEOs talking about why we should work less (to increase their profits, naturally). But there are signs the American labor movement could once again take up the fight for fewer hours. Notably, Bernie Sanders said he would consider a 32-hour workweek (for the same pay) at the United Food and Commercial Workers 2019 fall forum in Iowa.

Sounds great to me. Is there a catch?

Some progressive economists worry that enforcing a shorter workweek could lead to an economic contraction and pay cuts. One proposal for a “leisure agenda” from the People’s Policy Project recommends a mix of measures instead, including more federal holidays, more guaranteed vacation time, and more paid parental and sick leave. However we get there, the end goal is clear: We need to get a life.

This is part of “The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of reducing hours and raising pay in action, see, ”How Working Less Can Help Prevent Climate Catastrophe and Promote Women’s Equality,” “California Workers Win Equal Overtime: ‘This Bill Corrects 78 Years of Discrimination’” and “Long Hours, No Rest: Overworked Americans Still Dream of Vacation.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2020 by the editors of In These Times. Reprinted with permission.


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The 32-Hour Workweek That’s Grown One Company By 204 Percent

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Bryce CovertWhen Cristian Rennella first co-founded elMejorTrato.com, a Latin American search engine, he and his employees worked five days a week just like nearly all other companies. But then two years in they decided to try something different: they stopped working on Fridays.

“We said we’re going to try it for only three months and if everything is working and the same amount of work is done, we can say three more months,” he told ThinkProgress. “Five years later we haven’t stopped.”

And in that same timespan the company has grown annual revenue by 204 percent.

Rennella credits that growth in large part to the different work schedule. He says it makes everyone at the company get more done in a shorter amount of time. “We know we have Friday off, so we can be more productive because we know we have to focus,” he said. “We only have 32 hours to do all the work.” Rather than spending some work hours on Facebook or doctor’s appointments, he and his employees use all of them for work-related tasks.

His hunches are supported by the data. The most productive workers around the world are those who put in fewer hours. Meanwhile, different studies have found that working more than 60 hours a week can boost productivity in the short term but that boost will disappear after a few weeks.

The model makes particular sense in his sector. “We’re in the technology age, we’re not working in the industrial age,” he pointed out. “In the industrial age, people thought that the more you work the more you will get done. Now for us it’s the opposite. It’s not the most work you do, it’s the quality of the work that matters.” For programmers especially, the quality of the code they write in the shortest amount of time is more important than the hours clocked sitting at a desk. A few other technology companies have tried shorter workweeks, like Treehouse in the U.S.

The policy brings other advantages to his company. “We want to make [work/life balance] a reality,” he said. “It’s impossible to have balance with work and life with your family if you work five days and you have only two days to spend time with family.” The balance he feels they achieve is a big draw for prospective employees. The company has a “competitive advantage…to hire only the best and excellent professionals,” he said. It’s hard to lure the best engineers to a company, but his workweek is a big draw. “Compared to competition with the same salary, they’re happier here and they say it’s an important thing… We can hire better people,” he said. Studies have found that shorter hours do make people happier.

And once they come onboard, his employees rarely leave. “They don’t go to work in another place because they’ve been working so few days,” he said. “Everywhere [else] is five days for eight hours, 40 hours a week.” Here in the United States, the 40-hour week is even a myth: the average full-time American worker puts in 47 hours a week. Retaining employees comes with huge benefits for his company. “When you have a new person on the team or have to replace a person who leaves, you have to start from zero,” he said. Keeping people “allows us to have long-term sustainability. We can grow much more quickly than our competition because we have no problem with members of the team going to another company.”

That’s definitely true for Rennella himself. “If I want to go to a new startup or work for another company, I would like to work four days…because my family is expecting me to be with them Friday.”

This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on January 5, 014. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.


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The Advent of the Four Day Work Week?

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At least in Utah (via Derek Thompson at The Atlantic):

Forget everybody working for the weekend. In Utah all government employees have shifted to a four-day workweek, and the state is calling it a win-win-win for its budget, workers and clean air. Utah has saved $1.8 million in electrical bills in the last year, the air has been spared an estimated 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and workers are thrilled.  Eighty-two percent of them say they prefer the new arrangement, which still enforces the 40-hour week by requiring 10 or more hours a day Monday – Friday. Is it time to ask your boss if you can take off Friday …. forever?

Not sure this will start a craze, but the fewer day workweek clearly has some benefits, as illustrated above.  Moreover, Thompson points out:

There's another way to realize those kind of savings: Asking workers to telecommute. As I've written before, the benefits of telecommuting are pretty diverse. From the employer side, it can save office space, utilities and overhead for employee services. From the employee side, it allows parents to spend more time with their family and cut down on increasingly expensive travel given the rising price of gas and public transportation. And of course, fewer cars on the road means less traffic, which means quicker travels (and less gas) for other Friday commuters.  

But, on the other hand, any increase in telecommuting will lead to less face time in the office. Will that have deletrious effects on the culture of the workplace and make employees feel that they are not part of a team, part of something more than just what they contribute to the enterprise?

Am I overstating my concerns here?

Paul Secunda: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

This article originally appeared at Workplace Prof Blog on July 30, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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