Reduced workweek experiment fails

Will  shortening the workweek really work?
Will shortening the workweek really work?

Around the world there has been a call to reduce the number of hours that people work. This was for a variety of reasons such as more family time, more recreation, better balance between work and non-work, and just a better quality of life. France tried it and mandated a 35 hour workweek. But a study found that people worked around the prohibition and worked closer to a 40 hour work week. In Germany they found that people worked in the “grey” economy where wages were not reported in order to make up for shortened workweeks. Sweden more recently ran an experiment in two cities to test the viability of a six-hour workday. It didn’t fare too well.

The Swedish experiment

In the city of Gothenburg, home of Volvo, they shortened the work day to six hours. They kept the employees’ wages the same on an annual income level. The employees felt better and experienced less stress but the company had to hire more people in order to deliver services. This increased the cost of doing business and subsequently the experiment was deemed an expensive flop. In France one of the candidates in the 2017 presidential campaign is pushing for a 48 hour workweek vowing that the 35 hour workweek has been a failure and did not increase the economy the way it was promised in 2000.

In the United States

There have been continued calls in the US for shortened workweeks as well, but US employers are not inclined to continue to pay full wages for a reduced number of hours. Some companies have gone to a ROWE model (Results Only Work Environment) where time worked is not the measure, rather it is the productivity produced that counts. Unfortunately the FLSA prevents that from being wide-spread because the law requires employers to pay nonexempt employees on the basis the time they work and not the results of their effort.
People are not inclined to work fewer hours if that also means they make less money. We have seen in the past that when hours are cut, people make up the short fall by going and getting part-time jobs. Today with the “gig” economy people are afforded many opportunities to make up the short fall by working more hours in jobs that are not related to their “regular” job. That is the allure of driving for Uber and Lyft.
One writer, in her call for a shortened 30 hour workweek, said “Some say it can’t be done because wages are too low. So let’s raise wages. No one should have to work long hours just to get by.” That sounds good, but where does the money for that ultimately come from? The consumer’s pocket, the pocket of that very worker who is working fewer hours, is where it comes from.

If it works for your situation

Mandating shorter workweeks is not the answer. If a shorter workweek works for your company and you can pay more to employees for their work then by all means do so. If your margins and delivery of service can handle the schedule then more power to you. But in this day and age of 24/7 demand that may be hard to deliver. Going to the government to demand a shorter workweek will not solve that problem.

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