Pros and Cons of a 30-Hour Work Week

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Around the world, different cultural norms and employer expectations dictate the number of hours that employees work. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in 2018 that Americans work an average of 37 hours per week, trailing the 43 hours per week put in by Mexican workers. Germans work the fewest hours per week, coming in at 28. This includes all types of working arrangements, from part-time and full-time to contract and side gigs.

Since 2016, Amazon.com has been using a 30-hour workweek for some groups. In exchange for a more flexible schedule and reduced work hours, the employees agreed to a 25% pay cut but could retain all of their employee benefits. Companies like Deloitte and Google also offer employees the option of compressed workweeks.

The Origin of 40-Hour Work Weeks

According to popular history, the notion of eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, and eight hours of rest each day came from Welsh industrialist and labor rights activist Robert Owen. The idea stuck in the post-Civil War U.S. and became the standard for the modern work week. Later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal policy that made 40 hours a week the American standard to reform previous labor abuses that happened during the Great Depression.

Let's take a look at the pros and cons for both employees and employers of reducing the standard work week to 30 hours per week.

Pros

  • More work-life balance appeals to millennials.

  • Parents of young children appreciate the extra family time.

  • Employees are less likely to suffer burnout.

  • Work schedules can be more flexible.

Cons

  • Employees would be paid less.

  • Employers may need to increase staff sizes.

  • Full benefits for fewer hours could increase costs for employers.

  • Workaholic employees may struggle to adjust.

The Pros and Cons for Employers

Millennials have been the majority of the adult workforce in the U.S. since 2017, and a 30-hour work week appeals to that age group. Millennials have been shown to be more focused on work-life balance than on attaining power at work. A 30-hour work week also could appeal to more parents who already struggle with the responsibilities of having a career and running a household. A shortened schedule offered to employees also can prevent burnout and disengagement in workers by offering them more time to recuperate and enjoy life. The overhead costs of running an office also could be reduced. The risk of injury, which has been shown to increase when people work more than 12 hours per day, could be reduced.

In terms of potential negatives for employers, if the standard work week is reduced to 30 hours, this could increase the chance of paying overtime for more hours worked, depending on how overtime laws were adapted to the new standard. It also could leave certain times uncovered by employees during regular business hours, requiring the hiring of more people. Employees who already are working fewer hours may no longer see this as a benefit and start slacking off. The demand for employee benefits could increase as all workers who fall under previous limits set forth by health care reform would become eligible for coverage.

The Pros and Cons for Employees

For employees, having a set 30-hour work week could seem like a dream come true. They could choose to work 5 days each week, but each day would start or end at a more convenient time. They could take longer and more frequent breaks, which means commute times would not improve if they began and ended their shifts at the same times.

Employees who already work from remote locations would experience the biggest benefit from a reduced work week.

Employees may still have a tendency to work extra hours, as it’s a hard habit to break. They may be more rested and have more time for personal needs—but at a reduced salary which would remove some of their expendable income. Employees may find it difficult to adjust and won't be as productive in a condensed schedule.

The End of the Standard 40-Hour Week?

According to Inc., millennials are the first generation that views work as a headspace and not a physical place. They are continually plugged into their mobile phones, in a “never-offline and always-available” way of working. Millennials have no issue with combining work and personal life. They bound out of bed in the morning already checking email and social media networks. They conduct personal business, like shopping, while they also are at work. They don't mind engaging with a manager in a text conversation over weekends.

It’s clear that mobile working options could influence the number of hours that the average adult works. A 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey advised that Millennials who report working from flexible locations is up by 21 percent from 2016. About 64 percent now enjoy this perk. It’s a matter of preference for each individual. Whether working in an office or remotely, employers can establish a set amount of hours that are acceptable and prove to be most productive. Employees can choose careers that offer them the freedom to work when and where they feel they are at their peak of productivity. Working fewer hours also can help reduce burnout, but it could put added stress and pressure on people who don’t manage their time well.

Impact on Employee Benefits

Under the Affordable Care Act, employees are eligible for group health benefits if they are full time, which is defined by working an average of 30 hours per week.

Employees also have the option to be covered under a spouse’s employer plan, a private insurance plan purchased through their state marketplace, or a public health plan if they meet certain low-income guidelines. Some employers also offer limited benefits to part-time workers, including supplemental insurance, educational benefits, paid time off, and company discounts for travel, mobile phones, and technology.