A study coming out of Australia has indicated that a reduced workweek of optimally 25 hours per week helps workers over the age of 40 in terms of their mental functioning. An analysis of this research suggested that workers would benefit by working fewer days or fewer hours per day. They wondered if this benefit would work only for workers over 40 or for all workers. My question was who would be helped by a reduced workweek?
Happier, more productivity and more profitability
The website OnRec reports that a study in Sweden has shown that a reduced workday in some companies has resulted in a happier and more productive workforce with a resultant increase in profitability. As a result of this initial outcome for Toyota of Sweden other companies have adopted the 6 hour workday with “a view to getting more done in a smaller timeframe to free up workers to have more time for their private lives.” The use of technology can certainly increase the likelihood of being able to reduce the number of hours worked. Everyone would benefit from working fewer hours in terms of adopting a healthier lifestyle but there are issues, such as income and the ability to live within a shortened workweek.
The use of technology can certainly increase the likelihood of being able to reduce the number of hours worked.
Here are some of the issues that would need to be overcome, at least in the United States.
- For employees to accept working reduced hours they are going to have to be able to maintain current wages. Getting extra days off does not work for most if it also results in earning fewer dollars. Most employees might take the additional hours of “idle time” and go get a second job in order to maintain their current income level. If employers step up and maintain current levels of income for reduced hours then we will be fine, but given that the USDOL just increased the number of American workers who have to get paid based on the number of hours they work rather than what they contribute we have a dilemma.
- The six hour workday requires a number of restrictions that might be difficult to enforce in many companies. In the Swedish companies that have instituted this no social media use is allowed, meetings are kept to a minimum and all other distractions have been eliminated if possible. You are required to work intensely in order to enjoy the extra time away from work that you get. With a new generation coming online that may be difficult to do.
- Working a six hour day may be prohibitively expensive for many companies, especially those that are 24 hour operations. It would require an entire additional shift to cover the hours not being worked. You might be able to make up for this by paying the others less, since they are working fewer hours, but then we get into the problem in the first issue mentioned.
- If it is applied to only workers over 40 we will have issues with age discrimination. Not everyone over 40 is slowing down, as the study out of Australia implies. Additionally there is no state pension to help workers make up the short fall in income from working less. Social security doesn’t kick in until age 65 or later (66 for me) so it is not help up to that point.
Balance would be nice
Perhaps we can even change to a system of pay not based on hours worked but contribution made?
Certainly being able to work less for a pay check that doesn’t diminish would be nice. However, not everyone sees it that way. Some people get psychic enjoyment out of their work and don’t have any problem working long hours because they enjoy it.
Perhaps automation is the answer. If a company, through its use of automation, can maintain its profitability then they can afford to pay employees even though they are not working 40 hours.
Perhaps we can even change to a system of pay not based on hours worked but contribution made? That would be a novel idea. Then everyone might be happy, as long as they are contributing. Do you think American business can get there?