The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s top professor says shortening the workday from eight to six hours would result in a happier and more productive workforce, and his social media followers agree.
“We can be as productive in 6 focused hours as in 8 unfocused hours,” professor Adam Grant wrote in a LinkedIn post that got thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. Grant, who studies the psychology of work, also acknowledged the constant connection to technology used at jobs makes it harder to set boundaries even if working fewer hours.
A 2015 experiment in Sweden showed nursing home workers who worked only six hours a day—with the same pay—were more efficient, took fewer sick days, and spent more quality time with their patients. But the nursing home had to hire more staff to provide the necessary care hours for their patients, which led to a 22 percent increase in costs for the company, The Guardian reported.
A New Zealand–based movement advocates a similar idea: a four-day workweek. An estate-planning company that tried out a four-day workweek saw increases in productivity and employee satisfaction, but estate planning doesn’t need daily coverage like the healthcare, information technology, or transportation industries do.
Henry Ford back in 1926 reduced the workweek from six to five days for his autoworkers, reasoning that with more time on their hands they would shop on Saturdays and would “require more transportation in vehicles.” The shortened workweek was a clever follow-up to Ford’s 1914 doubling of all workers’ pay to $5 a day. With more money, workers would buy his cars.
Shortened workdays or -weeks benefit some but not all companies. The United States is already seeing record satisfaction among workers: American employees are happier at work now than they have been since the year 2000, according a 2017 Gallup poll. Many factors contributed to 34 percent of respondents being classified as “engaged workers,” a label meaning high enthusiasm and commitment to one’s job. The poll showed greater productivity from higher levels of engagement and better health benefits for employees, all without cutting work hours short.
And for those in poverty, a shorter workday or -week could hurt in the long run because it doesn’t take advantage of their full capacity to work. Creating more full-time work and breaking down barriers to accessing those jobs is the key to alleviating poverty, economic experts say.
“For the working class, as for all Americans, the sense of duty rests on cultural norms—norms that have been eroding and need to be reinvigorated,” Michael Strain wrote for the American Enterprise Institute in 2017. “The norm that if you can work, you should be working, even if the only job you can find pays 65 percent of what you made in your last job—and even if you have to move a few states away for a good job. A recovery of these basic norms would go a long way toward helping the working class lead full and flourishing lives.” —R.H.