The Case for (and Against) the 32 Hour Work Week

Time. It’s something we never have enough of, the next great boundary for human-kind to conquer. For now though, we have to face facts: our time is limited in everything we do. Throw in a 40-50 hour work week, and you find yourself with even less. The average person spends anywhere from 44 to 49 hours working each week. When you consider that you have a total of 120 hours in a week, you’re already down to around 71 hours left for personal time. Do you sleep 7+ hours a night like most other individuals? There goes another 35 hours from your week. You’re now down to 36 hours to do everything else in your life that’s not working or sleeping. An hour at the gym each morning? 30 hours left. Add in your weekly commute and you could very quickly be looking at 24 hours or less each week (or about 4-5 hours per day) to spend with family and friends, doing chores around the house and generally perusing your own personal interests. Only then are you given a 48-hour reprieve until you’re right back at the beginning again on Monday.

The concept of the 32 hour work week certainly isn’t a new idea, but it is a considerably unacceptable one by many businesses. In fact, many forward-thinking businesses even scoff at the idea of a “compressed” work week (which is a 40-hour week compressed into 4 days in layman’s terms), allowing flex-time to be the extent of their “progressiveness.” The immediate reaction by many managers would be one of laughter at the mere suggestion of such a schedule, and it makes sense. When you think about how much work can be done in 40 hours compared to just 32, the cards already appear to be stacked against our relatively unmentionable friend.

Let’s consider the cons of allowing for a 32 hour work week:
•    Less gets done (8 less hours to do the same job/processes).
•    Employers will pay their employees less.
•    Many industries simply can’t afford to close shop during the work week, with orders coming in every day, you may miss out on an entire day’s worth of business.

Those are already some huge items weighing against the 32 hour work week, are there any comparable pros?
•    Employees have a better work/life balance. This will make them happier and, as discussed previously on the Proforma blog, happiness can be a corporate game-changer as far as efficiency and productivity go.
•    Those companies who have switched to a 32 hour work week have expressed they have far more “aha” moments in their time in the office. The extra day to recharge allows employees a renewed sense of enthusiasm in the office, and this has reportedly led to better creative thinking and brainstorming sessions.
•    Cut costs – Employees may be paid less, and not only will this help lower company costs, but the extra day of staying out of the office will allow companies to save 20% on their weekly building costs (less energy usage, less wear and tear on the office and items within, etc.).
•    Lower costs = fewer layoffs. More than a dozen states offer “job-sharing programs” that allow certain unemployment benefits to workers who have had their hours cut, while still allowing them to maintain company insurance programs.
•    A 32 hour work-week is better for the environment. “That’s a ridiculous claim” – you might say, but consider this: the less people need to drive to the office, the less morning commutes will be congested. Every car off the road on a Friday morning is one less carbon-emitting machine polluting the atmosphere. Over time, this adds up.

When you look at it in that light, the 32 hour work week isn’t so farfetched of an idea after all… for the most part. Ultimately, the decision has to be made on a company-by-company basis. Some organizations, chiefly in the service industry, can ill-afford to close shop for 3 days out of the week, much less 2. It might not be in our immediate future, but companies like this one are pioneers in the 4-day work week and, in time, they could be hailed as the company that started a world-wide revolution in the business world. For now though, they’ll be the envy of many 9-5ers and the thorn in our managers’ side until the business model can be repeatedly proven to work. All we can do at this point is hope that time is on our side.

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