California is currently introducing legislation that will mean some workers’ weeks will be reduced to four days and 32 hours.
The move is the first big push to reduce the pressure on workers and give them more time to focus on their families and hobbies.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a refocus on work-life balance and similar projects have been successfully trialed in other countries.
The project is being spearheaded by California Democrat Congressman Mark Takano, who is determined to get the four-day work week into legislation.
The New York Times reported him as saying “there’s economic, political, social upheaval” which has led to Americans not wanting to “return to the same old normal.”
He introduced the 32-hour Workweek Act in July, and several groups, including the Economic Policy Institute and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have pledged their support to the plan.
If the legislation is successful, employees would not be forced to shift to a four-day week model.
However, companies of a certain size would have to start paying overtime after an employee reaches 32 hours.
“What collective choice do we want to make about how we work? ”To be sure, a four-day workweek is hardly new.”
In a statement in July last year, when he launched the bill, Takano added: ““After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working.
“People were spending more time at work, less time with loved ones, their health and well-being was worsening, and all the while, their pay has remained stagnant.
“This is a serious problem. It’s time for progress and I am confident that with the CPC behind this bill, we can take meaningful steps forward and create positive, lasting change in people’s lives.”
The Shorter working week is not a new idea
The New York Times archives show talk of changing the working week dates back as far as 1970.
An article 52 years ago says the trend towards a shorter week was “accelerating”, but the proposal has never been universally adopted.
Critics have always said it is impossible in some client facing industries.
The pandemic has changed the way US workers approach their jobs.
There has already been the “great resignation” as workers give up their jobs in search of other opportunities.
Another big change has been the creation of unions in giants like Amazon and Starbucks – a move not exactly embraced by bosses.
Protests have also been organized by workers over their rights.
Such a radical change, has, of course, led to some prominent voices speaking out against the idea.
Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor, told the Wall Street Journal the move would mean jobs moving to other states.
He said: “Jobs will shift to Nevada or Oregon, and employers will not be able to raise pay for many years,”
He added a a better alternative for businesses and shift workers who have to do work in person would be longer hours spread out across fewer days, with workers benefiting from not having to commute as much.
One major opponent, who Tanaka will have to work hard to get on side, is the the California Chamber of Commerce.
The group describes the move as a “job killer” and it’s documentation says the legislation “Significantly increases labor costs by imposing an overtime pay requirement after 32 hours and other requirements that are impossible to comply with, exposing employers to litigation under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).”
Higher levels of wellbeing – and disengagement
A survey carried out in March 2020 – shortly after the onset of Covid-19 in America – by Gallup gives some interesting insight into the idea.
10,364 workers were asked home many days a week they usually work.
Just five percent worked four days, compared to 84 per working five days and 11 percent saying they worked six days a week.
Unsurprisingly, those working six days reported the worst levels of burnout, with 38 percent saying they “often” or “always” felt burned out.
This is compared to 26 percent of people working five days and 23 percent of people doing four day weeks.
The survey found 63 percent of people on four-day weeks had thriving wellbeing, compared to 57 percent of those working five days and 56 per cent of those who worked six days weeks.
However, the contrast was people who worked four and six-day work weeks were more disengaged than their colleagues.
The survey found the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees was best for those with five day work weeks — a ratio of 3.2-to-1.
This is compared to four day workers, who had a ratio of 2.2-to-1, and six day workers, who had a ratio of 2.1-to-1.
So what will happen if the legislation is introduced?
Employers are understandably nervous about the proposed change, particularly the cost of providing more overtime.
However, as it will become enshrined in law, they won’t have the option not to do it.
Whether it’s a success or not will be down to the employer’s flexibility over how it is managed and whether staff are able to manage their time successfully.
Problems will arise if staff are trying to cram 40 hours plus of work into less time, but if that workload is managed, businesses could find themselves benefiting massively from enthusiastic staff who have much more energy to put into their work.