Is America ready for a 4 day workweek?

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Is America ready for a 4 day workweek?

Every Thursday at approximately 4:30 pm, my heart races and I can barely concentrate on finishing my work day. Triggered by a clock ding instead of a bell, I’m like Pavlov’s dog with sweaty palms and drool and glazed eyes. Why, you ask? Because in my house, Thursdays mean tacos and margaritas and cheese towers. And I’m not talking about ground beef and crap from a box, either. I’m talking homemade pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and sauteed chicken, shrimp, and beef. Yes, in my house, Thursday is the new Friday because of tacos (because what’s better than tacos, amirite?). But wouldn’t this story (and life) be better if Thursday was the new Friday because we had 4 day workweeks? What would life be like if every week ended with a long, three-day weekend?

Originally, the idea of the 4 day workweek was introduced in the 1950s by American labor union leader Walter Reuther, but Americans (read: American bosses) have been hesitant to adopt it. Before we discuss the cons of a shorter workweek, let’s first explore its pros and make a case for its eventual (hopefully) implementation.

The benefits of a 4 day workweek

Better productivity

According to a study published by John Pencavel of Stanford University, employee output drops sharply after a 50-hour workweek and is pretty much non-existent after 55 hours. In fact, the research found that someone who puts in 70 hours per week produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.

In his study, Pencavel writes, "The relationship [between output and working hours] is nonlinear: below an hours threshold, output is proportional to hours; above a threshold, output rises at a decreasing rate as hours increase. Implications of these results for the estimation of labor supply functions are taken up. The findings also link up with current research on the effects of long working hours on accidents and injuries." But, #Murica, right? Americans work hard to play hard, keeping up with the Joneses at both the office and home. If he has the iPhone 5, we have the iPhone 6. If she stays at work until 7, we stay at work until 8.

Unfortunately, the burnout (like the struggle) is real, and there is a tipping point after 50 hours. Basically, it’s all about efficiency. When you have 10 hours a day to complete a task that may only take 7 or 8 hours, you fill the extra office hours (possibly even subconsciously) with food and water breaks, coffee runs, Facebook, and gossip to relax your mind. Because of that, experts are finding that there is a large difference between "working" and being "at work", and research is supporting it.

Less sickness

The more you work, the more you don’t take care of yourself. The sicker you get, the more work you miss. A study was recently published in a medical journal at The University of London that found that workers who put in 55 hours or more per week had a greater risk of heart disease and stroke than those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

Overworking can take a toll on your body in many different ways - mentally, physically, and emotionally. It can weaken your immune system, cause depression, insomnia, headaches, neck and back pain, and even change your appetite. If you are getting sick because of your job, it may be time to contact your doctor (and your boss) to explore the very real possibility that you may be overworked. No job or salary is ever worth sacrificing your health and well-being.

Less turnover

Overworking not only makes you sick, it also causes the company to suffer from issues like absenteeism, less productivity, and high turnover.

Have you ever worked at a place that’s like a revolving door? Companies with poor benefits and pay, shoddy management, and long hours shouldn’t be surprised when they can’t hire or keep good employees because, essentially, you get what you give.

Since both shift work (like evening, night, or rotating shifts) and long work hours have been associated with health and safety risks, it’s important to be safe on the job. Shorter workweeks provide that safety - especially in terms of proper rest and time off for employees - leading to more stable and committed workers.

How do you feel after you’re back from vacation? Yes, you’re depressed if you were on a sunny beach and have returned to a frozen tundra, but it’s nice to return home and to a sense of normalcy back at the office. What’s more, you’ve gotten a chance to recharge and reboot so you’re more than likely to bring that positivity to the office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an entire website dedicated to providing information on things like The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSF) and the effects of sleep deprivation.

Greener nation

Since there are costs to running companies like the expenses of labor, buying and maintaining machinery, and providing utilities like heat, water, and electricity, cutting work hours also cuts those expenses. But what about the environmental benefits and smaller carbon footprint of shorter workweeks? Companies (and countries) that work more pollute more (duh!), but not just because they are open for business one day longer. They pollute more because of the basic principle of causation: overworked, overstressed people tend to eat, drink, and travel more and live more fast-paced, energized lives to supplement or justify their work habits.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how you spend your two days off. On a holiday weekend, you can 100 percent find my unshowered, unenergized body lying on the sofa watching a "Maury" marathon one of those three blessed days.

When I work five days a week, it’s harder to have a true day of rest because I want and need to spend one day enjoying my weekend with family and friends and the other spending all my overworked money on groceries, bills, and vet visits. Want to do your part for the economy and cut down on energy and pollution? Stop going to work five days a week.

Economical benefits

Although our economy is improving, it still has a ways to go. The labor market needs to get restructured so we can get back to a stronger, more viable middle class. A shorter workweek would help to improve social and economic equality and help redistribute the time worked (and, hopefully, the wealth) more evenly across the nation of the working population.

According to CNN, people in countries like Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands work way less than Americans yet their income does not fall far from the proverbial apple-money tree. In fact, while workers in the Netherlands make an average of $47,000 (compared to $50,500 in the U.S.), they only work an average of 29 hours per week. Danes (citizens of Denmark) make $46,000 for an average of 33 hours, citing ample paid vacations and flexible work schedules as the norm in work culture. Beyond pay and vacation time, benefits like flexible hours are key for a blossoming economy and high productivity.

By contrast, in America, our maternity and paid leave are abhorrent, especially since we’re the only nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave. Fortunately, it is finally picking up steam in the current presidential administration and has been discussed on the campaign trail by Democratic hopefuls like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It’s pretty simple: if your workers are happy, your customers will be, too.

More time to make tacos

Working less means cooking more. Here are some recipes. Get to it!

The drawbacks of a 4 day workweek

Ready to buy some wooden shoes and move to the Netherlands? Consider, first, the problems of a shorter workweek.

Beyond the initial transitional costs for each company - payroll, scheduling, HR - what businesses would not be able to participate? Can schools and daycares be four days a week (and as parents, would that make you less or more relaxed)? What about hospitals? Airports?

If you’re working 10-hour days instead of 8, who is going to pick up your children from school? Who will make dinner? Will you miss your daughter’s soccer game or your book club? Fatigue and sickness - will they lessen because you have one extra day off to relax or intensify because now two hours have been added to your workday?

Owners and bosses would also have to take a look at their workers and decide whether it works for the company as a whole or just for specific departments. Because since we have been operating in five day workweeks for so long, not all businesses can function if they lost one day per week. If customers feel they aren’t being seen or spoken to during those four days, customer service (and, ultimately, profits) could suffer.

Still interested in that extra day off? Already wearing those wooden clogs? Alright, alright, alright. Since you’re a PolicyGenius reader, there’s no doubt you’re smart, great-looking, and hard-working, so keep up that impeccable track record by doing your research when you decide to [fight for a 4 day workweek](http://lifehacker.com/5936834/how-to-convince-your-boss-to-let-you-try-a-4 day-work-week). Your boss (and your margarita machine) will thank you.

Photo credit: Phil Roeder