This past summer, Google’s two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, conducted a joint interview with Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures. In the interview, Page, Google’s CEO, covered a number of interesting topics, including his belief that society no longer needs full-time employees. He pointed out that the key elements people need to truly be happy – housing, security, opportunities for their children – are not that hard to provide, and the amount of resources that need to go into providing these is relatively small. Therefore, the idea that one needs to work frantically is unfounded.
Page went on to suggest the solution of a reduced work week, possibly splitting one full-time job into multiple part-time jobs. He cited the fact that while most people like working, they would also like more spare time to spend with their families or to pursue other interests. Splitting full-time jobs into part-time jobs would not only provide more people with jobs, but provide them with more spare time as well.
Who else has proposed a shorter work week?
Google certainly isn’t the first to propose the idea of a shortened work week. The Swedish city of Gothenburg recently proposed a six-hour workday in the hopes that workers will feel better mentally and physically. The intended result would be fewer sick days and an increased workplace efficiency, thus creating more jobs. Similarly, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim proposed a three-day work week, where working three 11-hour days followed by four days off would become the norm. This idea was corroborated by Richard Branson, who wrote in a blog post that people should be encouraged to work “when, where and how they like, in order to get the best results possible.”
What are the benefits?
The benefits of a shortened work week are fairly obvious. Who wouldn’t like more spare time, more vacation, more sleep? A well-rested workforce would ultimately lead to better productivity and increased creativity. Also, reducing the number of workdays would allow employees to cut their commuting expenses, spending less on gas and reducing traffic congestion and pollution. So where’s the downside?
What are the downsides?
Surprisingly, I’ve read very little on the obvious downside – with less hours comes less money. In an article on Mashable by Seth Fiegerman outlining the details of the Google interview, the most recent comment below the article is telling:
“Left a long-term job when hours dropped below sustainable family budget. Now, as a two income household, we again face a step down with my wife’s change in jobs. Someone please show me where this ‘works’ for anyone but employers.”
While we would all enjoy more time to ourselves, what employer plans on reducing employee hours without reducing pay? While Google’s CEO suggests splitting one full-time job into multiple part-time jobs, how many workers will find a part-time income sufficient? More than likely, it would send most employees scrambling to obtain a second job in order to replace the lost income.
What’s the other solution?
The other proposed solution to a shorter work week is longer workdays. In Carlos Slim’s proposal of a work week consisting of three 11-hour workdays, one must take into account how this would affect workers in various industries. While some who work office jobs may be able to handle a prolonged workday, what about those who work manual labor jobs such as construction, where an 11-hour workday may not be feasible?
Regardless of the industry, few could maintain the same level of concentration and productivity in their work throughout an 11-hour workday as in a standard eight-hour day. While longer workdays may add up to a similar number of weekly hours, employers would most likely see a decline in productivity due to only half as many overnight breaks as in a typical five-day work week. Nearly every worker feels fatigue setting in at the end of a long day, and going home and resting allows one to return the next day feeling rejuvenated. While the allure of a four-day weekend may be strong, maintaining a five-day work week consisting of shorter days with more opportunities for rest in between will surely yield greater productivity.
After weighing all the pros and cons, many workers will realize there are an equal number of downsides as upsides to a shortened work week. An 11-hour workday leaves little time for family or personal interests in the evenings. Essentially, all personal time would be forced into the four-day weekend, as the three-day work week would be solely dedicated to work. And don’t overlook the fact that in Carlos Slim’s proposed work week, despite the fact that employees would be working long days, they’d still only be working 33 hours a week, which would mean a lower salary for those who are paid hourly, or whose employers simply decide to pay less for less work.
So could a shortened work week actually work in the U.S.? Potentially, yes. As evidence, most European countries enjoy significantly shorter hours than U.S. workers, and many still boast strong economies. However, a shortened work week would require adjustments on the part of both employees and employers. Employees would need to adjust to either lower salaries or longer workdays in a shorter week. Employers would then need to determine how to complete a week’s worth of business in a matter of days, which may prove especially challenging if other companies with whom they do business are still working a five-day work week. So are YOU ready for a shortened work week?