Is it time to shorten the work week

Seems like since the beginning of written history man has always worked roughly 8 hours per day. It takes a small fraction of the time to produce something now compared to what it did even 100 years ago.
Instead of just working less we seem to just consume more. Consumption of raw materials is quickly becomming a problem on many fronts. Why don’t we work less and consume less? Why can’t we keep what we make longer? Making it better will take a bit longer but in the long run I thik we would all benefit.

I don’t think your premise is correct. The 40 hour work week is a fairly modern invention, and many people today still work far more than 40 hours per week… think farmers and ranchers.

I think we could get by with a 32 hour work week for most office workers, giving them a 3 day weekend, but that would probably lead to more consumption, not less.

You need to review some actual history. The five-day work week and the eight hour day are relatively recent developments coming in the last century which is a tiny fraction of recorded history. See for example,

Some countries make laws limiting the amount of time people can work.

This is not a model that very many countries have adopted, though.

Is it time? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. For those countries, it clearly was. It’s certainly possible, but it largely depends on legislation to make it happen.

It has to do in part with people trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’
If your neighbor is working more, you may be pressured into it to by comparison.

In order to work, it seems restrictions have to be across the board- and that is an issue deeply embroiled in economics and politics.

Also, not everybody is an office worker. We need to have people on the desk to keep the library open.

Here is an interesting summary of labor hours in the US. Take a trip back in time 80 years or so, and the working hours per week was 50% longer (or more!) than what is standard today.

The OP might find Juliet Schor’s book The Overworked American interesting. It’s basic premise is that we could be doing more to use productivity increases to increase leisure time, rather than to take the standard full time schedule as a given. Her next book addresses what she calls the “work and spend cycle,” in which increased productivity -> increased income -> increased purchasing power -> reluctance to trade income for leisure time because we’ve become accustomed to the purchasing power. (More or less. It’s been 10 years since I’ve read it.)

I think cutting back the work week would be a good thing. It would be helpful for parents and people with other substantial commitments outside of the labor force. However, I don’t think it will happen while health care and retirement benefits are still tied to employment status.

Mandating a shorter work week would be the easiest and quickest way of reducing unemployment. Cut everyone’s hours by a third while keeping the same salary, employers would be forced to hire additional people.

It will never happen in the US, as employers would fight any move in that direction. Of course, with more employed people, every business would ultimately benefit, but American business owners are a remarkably stupid and short-sighted bunch.

Glad to see that you’re in the GQ spirit of things and sticking to strictly factual information.

One huge issue is benefits. I believe as developing countries develop the American dollar will get weaker. Resources as they become scarcer or more expensive might start to force us to become less of a expendable society as far as purchased goods go. Technolgy will continue to grow. Man being what he is by nature I have a feeling the extra leisure time would reap benefits that would be hard to project. I think we would invent more, become happier and more creative. I believe the family unit would become a better enviroment to raise children etc. Maybe instead of leaving pay the same split the loss with the employer.
I should have done my research before I posted on the average work week but the trend is lowering the work week hours. I wonder how many hours the cave man worked while hunting and gathering?

WAG: If there was light available by which to hunt and gather, they were hunting and gathering. With break periods in which to eat what had been hunted and gathered.

I would think the opposite. Without refrigeration or much preservatives, there would be little need to get food in advance. Once you got the meat, berries and leaves for the day, your golden!

I do think the work week should be shortened, or at least reconsidered for a lot of reasons. This primarily applies to office jobs, but many of them could be adjusted to work for other fields.

One of the main reasons is efficiency. For this, either keeping 40 hours with 4x10 or shortening with 4x8 or 4x9 or possibly even 3x12 could work. Consider an office building that has 100 employees all working 5x8. You have to have 100 seats and provide power, heating/cooling, and plumbing to the building for not only the 40 hours they all work but also for lunch and extra on each end, so lets say minimum of 2 more hours per workday. Plus each of those employees has to spend probably an average of an hour commuting. Without losing any hours and going to 4x10, you have a few options of how to adjust the efficiency. You can simply have everyone work 4 days a week and close the building for a day and save on the extra 2 hours of power and the one hour of commuting. Or you can stagger who works on what days so you only need enough space for 80 people rather than 100. Doing that will increase the total amount of time the building is operating from roughly 50 to 60 hours but you cut the space needed, which saves a lot on that cost and on rent and all.

The really big saver here though that seems understated is the time not spent commuting. Not only do you save those employees what is essentially wasted time, but you save them the money on fuel wear and tear on their vehicles. If we could get everyone or a significant portion doing that, we could have a major impact on reducing traffic congestion, fuel consumption, pollution, and infrastructure needs. At least around here in Northern Virginia, where there’s probably a higher percentage of office workers than in many other areas, I could see just this translating to as much as 10% or more reduction in traffic on our already overburdened transportation system. Imagine how much difference that could make on fuel costs and carbon emissions?
I think another benefit would be in helping to create more jobs. Considering, 9 people working 40 hours a week is the same number of hours as 10 people working 36 hours. Sure, those 10 people will all be working a little bit less and thus theoretically making a little less money, but it also seems to me that working a little bit less overall means those people ought to be a bit more productive, even if it’s only a 5-10% difference in productivity, that means you can afford to pay each of those people a little bit more per hour and you’ll now have more total productivity and more total jobs for an admitted hit in salaries, but less of one than it might sound like. Further, it creates more room at all the levels, so more entry level positions and people who might now be a little underpaid can maybe be moved up to a higher level.

The only real issue I see is the added costs of training and benefits that doesn’t scale on a per hour basis and unpaid overtime for salaried employees. With the current system of benefits, it’s almost always going to be cheaper and more cost effective to have 4 people work 50 hours a week salaried than 5 people work 40, even if they get a lot more productivity. I think that’s really the biggest issue and barrier and the best place to effect change on work weeks.

Interesting you said that, as I reported this for a forum change.

Hunters & gatherers preserved and stored lots of food. They sun dried berries, fruits, herbs and greens. They smoked and made jerky out of meat. They dried and salted fish. They gathered and stored nuts, (limited) grains, tubers.

Moved from General Questions to Great Debates.

General Questions Moderator

So, no country in the world has been smart enough to figure this out, but you have?

You should publish your proposal in a peer reviewed journal-- surely there is a Nobel Prize* with your name on it somewhere.

*Yes, I know the economics prize isn’t really a Nobel, but it’s just easier to put it that way.

Many of my daughter’s friends had shorter work weeks - just short enough for their employers (usually retail) to avoid paying them benefits. I think we’d need a good universal health care system to make this work, because the per hour cost of health care benefits would rise otherwise.
There was an oped on this subject in the Times a while back - but it focused on getting the work week for salaried professionals down to something like 40 hours again.

On the other hand, we are hurting employment by forcing people to retire later. So I think we are moving in the other direction in the name of productivity.


Most of my employees currently work 30 hours per week, and have health benefits…and guess what? Many of them have second (and third!) jobs that are part time. Do you want to mandate how many hours they are allowed to work as well?

BTW, any reliable cites out there that have statistics on multiple job workers in the U.S.?

I think it could jump start the economy once it got over the shock. Many many would find 2 jobs, It might also be an opportunity in many cases for one parent to stay home and raise the kids while the other worked 2 jobs. Lowering welfare and increasing the tax base could not hurt. Even devaluing the dollar might have some hidden benfits in the long term.