A New Economy: The Shorter Work Week is Already Here

The conservative in my wants things to stay the same. I know how to succeed in this environment. I work a little harder, put a few more hours in at work, and do a great job and I know that the next raise, the next promotion, the next big step in my career is just around the corner. And for the most part I enjoy what I do – I have shaped my way of thinking to accept the challenge of my career as an unavoidable way I will spend 1/3 of my life.

On the other hand, spending so much time at work means that I have to give up other things that give me purpose. It means less time with my wife, less time with my little girl that is on the way, and less time with my extended family. The real sacrifice is less with my wife and child and made thought more subtle decisions like “I guess we aren’t going to see Grandma this weekend.” or “We can see our parents next month instead.” Or maybe its just being grumpy because I have to do something family related when I’d really enjoy some personal time.

But are we at a point where technology has given us an out? If we change our thinking can we work a little less and have a little more time for ourselves.  Are we enslaved by ancient ideas about middle-class-ism?

The End of an Era: 40 Hour Work Week

Enhancements in technology has granted us the gift of more free time and it’s only a matter of time before that seeps into the classic way of thinking about work.

Early in American history, when most of the country were farmers, people spent all day working. As the industrial revolution made its place in history shift work became popular and work days shortened. Over time, new industries of office workers, government employees, and service industries lead to what we now know as the 40 hour work week.

But with new developments in work-related technology, instant communication, and enhanced reliability, is there any reason we can’t reduce the work week even more – and more importantly – make that the new standard?

Some economist say we can:

“A shorter working week would make us healthier, give us more fulfilling and sustainable lives and be better for the environment.”

Market Decisions on Working Hours

I do not think that the 30 hour work week revolution would come all at once, but will (and is) be a part of a broader market strategy as companies in certain industries look to become more competitive. I firmly believe that some firms, seeking top talent, will eventually use the modified work week as a strategy to cut costs, retain productivity, and still get the very best employees.

For example, what if you were looking for a job out of college and you were given two choices in employment:

Tech Job A: Work 55 hours a week, health benefits, salary of $90,000 a year.
Tech Job B: Work 40 hours a week, health benefits, salary of $75,000 a year.
Tech Job C: Work 30 hours a week, health benefits, salary of $60,000 a year.

If you’ve ever worked 55 hours a week on a consistent basis “Tech Job C” is looking pretty great right now! And as firms realize that there is a large opportunity to gain the competitive edge, saving some cash, and limit the loss of overall productivity – I think we will see options like these become standard practice.

In many ways the future is here. New work models like “work from home Fridays” and “telecommute to work” are already shortening the work week. It is only a matter of time before we are talking about the 20 and 10 hour work week.

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