6 Arguments For A Shorter Workweek
By Aaron Taube
The economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted in 1930 that in 100 years time, technological advances would allow people to work as few as 15 hours a week.
It's not 2030 just yet, but it seems that Keynes' prediction is unlikely to hold true. In the U.S., the five-day, 40-hour work has held sway for at least the past half century.
Here are six reasons we should consider a shorter workweek:
1. It would make people healthier.
In July, the president of the U.K.'s leading public health industry group declared that the five-day workweek is causing people too much stress and that Britain should instead switch to a four-day workweek.
In an interview with The Guardian, professor John Ashton says that the excess stress can lead people to have high blood pressure and suffer from mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
"It would mean that people might smile more and be happier, and improve general health," Ashton says.
2. It can help people focus better.
The software company 37signals institutes a four-day, 32-hour week from May through October. In a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times, cofounder Jason Fried writes that the reduced schedule makes people more focused on getting things done in the limited time they have.
"When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what's important," he writes. "Constraining time encourages quality time."
3. People will be more productive because they are more empowered.
In an article published earlier this month by The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova writes that studies show that giving people more free time makes them feel like they are more in control of their own lives.
Other studies, she says, find that workers who feel they have more autonomy are inclined to be more efficient in their work. Ergo, giving people more free time will lead them to be more productive.
"We're creative and productive when we feel we have space to find our own way; we're frustrated and stubborn when we don't," she writes.
4. The extra sleep will be good for people.
Konnikova writes at The New Yorker that a shorter workweek would give people more time to sleep, which she says would lead to "better cognition, clearer thinking, and increased productivity."
Indeed, a 2011 study found that when members of the Stanford University basketball team added 90 minutes of sleep to their routine for more than five weeks, they were able to sprint faster and shoot more accurately.
5. Other countries have found success working fewer hours.
While Americans work fewer hours than people in East Asian economies like Singapore and Korea, the U.S. is still working much harder than most of Europe.
And many of those European economies are doing quite nicely.
As Annalyn Kurtz points out in an article for CNN Money, the average German worker puts in 394 fewer hours - the equivalent of 49 eight-hour days - than the average American each year. And yet, the country enjoys the world's fourth largest economy despite being its 17th most populous nation.
Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway also have strong economies despite working fewer hours than the average nation.
6. It's worked here, too.
The online education company Treehouse has a four-day, 32-hour workweek all year round, and its cofounder Ryan Carson swears by it.
In an op-ed published by Quartz earlier this year, Carson explains that his company makes up for the extra day by cutting out time-wasters like company emails and excess meetings, instead choosing to put internal communication on a message board where people can respond when they have time.
The result is that employees have higher morale after an extra day off, and recruiting good people is much, much easier.
Carson writes, "One of the team told me he regularly gets emails from Facebook trying to win him over and his answer is always the same: 'Do you work a four-day week yet?'"