Dear Employers, It’s Time To Ditch The 9-5 Work Schedule. Try This Instead

We seem to be making societal advancements every day, but one thing that hasn’t changed in over 60 years is our work week — or at least, how long it is. 

In 1940, there was no internet. There were no smartphones, computers, or iPads. Zoom hadn’t been invented, and there were no Slack notifications annoying everyone in your company. Job-holders would get up and go to work for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. This schedule gave them enough time in office to get the job done, and generally provided enough compensation to support a family.

 
 
 
 
 
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Today, it’s a bit different. Not everybody needs to work at the office anymore. In fact, some jobs shouldn’t be office-bound at all. In some cases, it’s more efficient to work from home and work fewer hours. Forty-hour work weeks are starting to feel a bit outdated. Not to mention, currently, 70% of American households have both adults employed, meaning there’s no longer a sole family member able to take care of household duties. How did we get here?

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The History Of The 40-Hour Work Week

In 1817, the Industrial Revolution had just hit, and activists and labor union groups were looking to advocate for better working conditions. At that time, people were working 80-100 hour weeks. It took over 60 years, but in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant issued 8-hour workdays for government employees and encouraged private-sector workers to do the same.

 
 
 
 
 
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But it wasn’t until 1926 that Henry Ford popularized the 40-hour work week. He found in his research that working more only added a small increase in productivity, as opposed to working harder for fewer hours. His reasoning for the 40-hour work week was that people would then have more time to spend the money that they made. 

It wasn’t until 1940 — over 120 years after the problem was brought up — that the 40-hour work week became a U.S. law.


Why 40 Hours?

@emilybruth

 

Reply to @iamjoegioia I’m glad you brung it up cuz I’ve been dying to talk about it for a f*ckin hot minute😅 #burnout #cc #40hourweek #fyp #workload

♬ original sound – Emily Ballesteros

There is no magic number of hours for every job. A doctor and a social media manager should not be working the same amount of hours. It’s archaic and silly to assume that just because no one has changed the 40-hour work week, the structure is flawless.  

When the 40-hour work week was first suggested, it provided balance. Ford said it would create “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” He knew that if people worked all day and all night, no one would have time to rest, raise a family, and spend the money they were making.


The Fall Of 40 Hours

 
 
 
 
 
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COVID and the work-from-home lifestyle have highlighted the flaw of 40-hour work weeks. People now work, live, sleep, play, and take care of their family all at home, and the 40-hour work week is no longer providing balance.

Researchers have found that of the 8 hours people are ‘working’ every day, people really only ‘work’ for 2 hours and 53 minutes of them. Everything else is going to (sometimes unnecessary) meetings, getting food, commuting, talking to coworkers, and working less efficiently simply because you have the hours to fill.

 

 

In the end, if you have to work 40 hours a week, you likely will work 40 hours a week. Work condenses to the time you set for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need 40 hours to do what you need to, but when employers instate 40-hour mandates, employees will stretch their work to fill that time frame.


40 Hours In America

Ford invented the 40-hour work week, so it makes sense that America has spearheaded a sort of “productivity” trend (to put it nicely). Currently, 134 countries have laws in place that set a maximum number of hours employees can work. America is not one of these countries. 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work over 40 hours a week. The International Labour Organization says, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” 

We, as a country, are some of the most overworked people, and it’s beginning to show.

A 2016 study from the World Health Organization estimated that over 745,000 people died from a stroke or other heart conditions that resulted from working over 55 hours a week. Overtime hours are also linked with increased sickness, more health risks, and other illnesses.

@emilybrucesky

Reply to @karlsss1994 #greenscreen yes let’s talk about the 40 hour work week! #careeradvice #careergoals #corporatelife #worklifebalance

♬ original sound – Emily

Not to mention that the U.S. is one of six countries with no paid leave. Six. Only one-quarter of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave. Government employees have paid leave (this includes sick, maternity, and paternity), but paid leave is not a national law in America for all private sectors. Only California, New York, and DC offer some kind of paid leave with their employment.

 
 
 
 
 
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The 4-Day Work Week

COVID brought a lot of attention to the idea of a 4-day work week. People were starting to feel like they had more agency and control over their work life, especially once they were able to cut back on the time needed to get ready and commute to work.

 
 
 
 
 
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A 4-day work week is just that — 4 days of work, 8 hours per day. Trials on this idea have been happening for a few years. Microsoft ran a trial in Japan and they saw a 40% increase in productivity. Buffer also is looking into it.

But Iceland is the poster child for the 4-day work week. Iceland took 1% of their working population (2,500 workers) in 2018-2019 and decreased their work without decreasing their pay. Iceland made sure not to just try this with tech companies, but with everyone —  post office, health care workers, teachers, everyone. As of today, almost 80% of Iceland’s work force has already reduced their working hours, or they’re on their way to doing so. And yes, workers adore it.

 
 
 
 
 
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New Zealand is also in the middle of a year-long four-day experiment. Spain and Scotland are also planning trials to give their employees an additional day off as well.


Pros And Cons Of A 4-Day Work Week

 
 
 
 
 
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Happiness, productivity, work-life balance, and reduced stress are among the benefits of a 4-day work week. For employers, a 4-day work week can lead to less turnover and increased employee satisfaction.  For employees, it’s a customized work schedule, fewer unnecessary meetings, less commute, and a 3-day weekend. The general report on the four-day workweek is that people are less crunched for time and more efficient and focused. 

A 4-day work week also can have cons. If employees and employers are trying the four-day workweek and solely condensing the hours, not the workload, that can lead to exhaustion. It also can be harder to find time to meet because you have one less day of work.


Alternatives To The 4-Day Work Week

The 5-Hour Work Day

 
 
 
 
 
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Because studies have found that people usually only work about 3 hours out of their 8-hour days, some companies are moving to 5-hour workdays. This won’t reduce the amount of work employees are able to accomplish; rather, it will increase their productivity during their time at work.

Flexible Staggered Schedules

This would mean that you work when you want to, just so long as you get your work done. This typically works best with jobs that are mostly (or completely) remote. If an employer were to implement a flexible, staggered schedule, then they might have to modify their office and company life — even if that just means making sure there’s only one meeting a week.

9/80 Work Schedule

The 9/80 schedule is also being tested and popularized right now. The basic premise is that workers will work 8 9-hour days, one 8-hour day, and have one day off. I wouldn’t personally suggest this because I feel it would lead to burnout faster than anything, but you do get 4 free days in a row! This schedule may be best for specific seasons when you have lots of projects/proposals to crank out, or if you’d like to find time to take a getaway without using PTO.


How To Propose An Alternative Work Schedule

This is a different proposal than your employer would usually get. Typically, requests to your employer would be about individual change. Changing to a 4-day week (or other alternative schedule) would be a monumental change to the whole company.

Strength In Numbers

 
 
 
 
 
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You’re not going to your employer for yourself, you’re going for the company. Ask some of your coworkers who agree with you (and might be willing to help you research and present the argument) to help make the request. You can also ask your coworkers to keep a time diary of how many hours they actually work in a day to show your boss an accurate measurement of productivity.

You can find more tips on how to ask your boss to move to a 4 day work week here


But I Like My Job

Yes, you can work 40+ hours and be okay. It’s privileged of me to sit here and tell you to lessen your workload when I know some people have to work 40+ hours just to survive. What’s more, the rise of COVID and WFH life meant that a lot of people started getting two full-time jobs because they could balance it. If that’s you, way to go. You’re killing it. But just make sure the job isn’t killing you.

Some people adore their jobs, and for some people, working a little overtime isn’t harmful. It’s counterproductive when people start to get overwhelmed. You know when you realize that you’ve been staring at a screen, reading the same sentence 400 times over? I know I do – even our dream jobs can overwork us.

 
 
 
 
 
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I would suggest really weighing out your work/life balance. Is your work giving you life? Do you go to work every day ready to kick ass? Or are you giving your work your life? Do you wake up every day and realize that you’re going to miss a giant part of your real life in order to go to work and get a paycheck at the end of the week?

If you side more with the second, I suggest taking some steps to lessen your workload. Maybe even consider looking for other jobs that provide a healthy work/life balance.

It’s hard to break up with the work-oriented hive mind that so many of us have. From the very beginning of our lives, most of us were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up; now that we are, I suggest we ask that same question to ourselves.

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How do you feel about the 40-hour work week? Do you currently work 40 hours? Comment below!


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