Numerous companies around the globe have decided to introduce a 30-hour workweek for their employees. Amazon made headlines in 2016 when it announced that some team leaders would be working 30 hours a week with a corresponding cut in pay but without a blow to their benefits. Other companies have cut back on employee hours by introducing a four-day, or 32-hour, workweek.
The traditional 40-hour workweek has been the standard for American office workers since 1940, when the Fair Labor Standards Act (passed in 1938) was amended to require that employers pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours a week. Now, nearly a century later, some are ready to rethink that standard.
Sweden has found success with an abbreviated workweek in which less than one percent of employees exceed 50 hours per week, and a significant handful of businesses make six-hour workdays an option. The Netherlands has the lowest average annual number of hours worked at 1,384. In the United States, the average annual hours is 1,790.
Clearly, a 30-hour workweek is not a novel concept, but companies need to carefully consider the pros and cons of this arrangement before they begin offering it to employees.
30-hour workweek benefits
Even though you’re used to a 40-hour—or longer—workweek, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider other options. In fact, a 30-hour workweek, generally consisting of four full workdays (seven and a half hours) a week, or five six-hour days, offers numerous potential advantages.
Research has shown that people who work longer hours have a significantly higher chance of suffering from a stroke. A study published in The Lancet looked at 600,000 workers in multiple countries over a period of eight and a half years. The people who worked 55 hours a week had a 33 percent greater chance of having a stroke than people who worked between 35 and 40 hours a week.
Other research reveals even more startling facts about the relationship between a heavy work schedule and health problems. People who work more than 11 hours a day are at a significantly increased risk of developing depression. They’re also more than 60 times more likely to develop a cardiovascular condition.
Of course, the correlation between health problems and excessive amounts of work doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is the only reason behind the problems. Other lifestyle habits may be a factor, such as a lack of exercise or sleep, and high-stress levels. However, working too much could be connected to many negative outcomes.
The lesson? Working less leads to better health.
In a world that is all about gaining a profit, some people have come to believe that work-life balance is a myth. However, a 30-hour workweek could make such a balance possible for people who have never experienced it before.
Working less opens up more time for employees to enjoy the company of their spouses, children, and friends. It also allows them to devote more hours to their passions outside of work, including hobbies and sports.
It might seem counterintuitive, but working less can actually have a positive effect on productivity. The reason behind this is simple: Healthier, happier employees are able to get more accomplished. If workers aren’t bogged down by excessive stress or tiredness, they’ll waste less time during the workday. They’ll also have a more positive, can-do attitude that will translate into increased creativity and ultimately, improved productivity.
One study that considered nurses found that those who worked six-hour days took half as much sick leave as those in the study’s control group. The nurses, who worked at a retirement home, had more energy to engage in activities with the residents, which is one of the metrics that the researchers used to measure productivity.
Your company could decide to cut the pay of workers who choose to take on a 30-hour workweek. This would lead to obvious monetary savings.
However, even if it doesn’t cut workers’ pay, there are still potential financial savings. For example, if everyone in the office goes down to 30 hours a week, you could save on utility costs at the office. This isn’t as much of an issue if you rent a flexible office space like WeWork, but it is an important factor for many companies to consider.
30-hour workweek disadvantages
The 30-hour workweek benefits are obvious, but this arrangement isn’t without its downsides.
If your company has some employees who work 30 hours a week and others who work 50 or 60 hours per week, this can be a cause for division among employees. Those who work more may tend to look down on those who work less, labeling them as lazy or pampered. Those who work more might not accomplish significantly more, but the superior mental attitude is still apt to sneak in.
Less availability for customers
Excellent customer service is the cornerstone of a successful business. However, if your company cuts back on work hours, this could affect availability for customers. You might have to stagger employees’ schedules so there is always someone open to respond to emails or answer phone calls from customers.
Complaints from employees
Complaints are only likely to occur if the cut in hours comes with a corresponding cut in pay. Decision-makers at companies will have to weigh carefully whether they should cut 25 percent of employees’ pay when they cut 25 percent off the workweek. To retain talent and make employees happy, companies should try to keep salaries at a 40-hour level.
Complaints are also likely if benefits begin to cost more or are reduced along with the number of hours worked.
It may take longer to do things
People who work less aren’t any less productive, but a cut in hours can still have a negative impact on big projects. Some tasks, no matter how productive employees are, simply take a lot of time and manpower to accomplish. Such projects might have longer timelines if companies adopt a 30-hour workweek.
Alternatively, companies could hire a few extra people to make up for the deficit in hours. However, that comes with its own downsides. If the new hires are considered to be full-time, they would have to receive benefits, which can be costly for employers.
How to decide if a 30-hour workweek is right for your company
Is a 30-hour workweek a fit for your company? The answer to that question depends on several factors. Ask yourself:
- How will my employees feel about such a switch? Don’t rely on statistics alone to give you the answer. Talk to your employees about how they feel about their current schedules and work-life balance. You might find that most of them are content with working 40 hours a week. Perhaps you could make special arrangements for reduced hours for those who are stressed.
- How much will it cost? A reduced workweek can increase productivity, but if productivity is already meeting your goals, it’s possible that you would see a loss if you cut back on work hours. It really depends on your employees and the nature of your business.
- Is it reasonable? Every business is unique, and there are many things you’ll have to consider before you decide if a 30-hour workweek is reasonable for employees in your company. For example, if there is a shortage of skilled workers in your industry, you might not be able to hire an extra person to help you with large, time-sensitive projects. Under those circumstances, reducing hours for employees might not be a viable option.
If you’re on the fence about a 30-hour workweek, try an experiment. Implement the arrangement for a few employees, and see how they perform. Does their overall productivity increase, decrease, or stay the same? How do they feel about the arrangement after it has been going on for a couple of months? If your experiment is successful, you can begin to offer a 30-hour week to more employees.
If a 30-hour workweek won’t cut it, you could think about taking other measures to give employees a break. For example, you could offer more paid vacation time or let employees work at home a few days a week.
Too many people in today’s corporate universe are overworked. They suffer from physical and mental health problems because of it. A 30-hour workweek can reduce such health problems, increase productivity, and save companies money. However, this arrangement isn’t a fit for all businesses. Decision makers need to take all factors into account before they decide to implement these changes.
This article was originally published on June 8, 2017, and has been updated throughout by the editors.