After recently reading a few articles on the adaptation of a 30 hour work week in Sweden, We are becoming believers that the “American” approach to productivity and efficiency is highly inefficient. This is ironic given that the the United States of America leads the world in GDP by nearly 7 trillion dollars (China being the next closest nation). [Source]
Now, we could spend the majority of this piece contemplating the conspiracies claiming that Big Business uses the 40 hour work week to force us to spend our time and money on week nights and weekends; using our free time to chase entertainment, instead of focusing on our health and relaxation [source]. Yet, the true issue that we need to be discussing is the plausibility of a 30 hour work week, and how reduction of government regulation can influence Big Business to provide a positive work-life balance.
To preface our discussion, let’s quickly cover this article published on the Swedish news website “The Local.” Here, we can gather a brief yet revealing glimpse at the positives of the 6 hour work week. Mr. Nilsson, whom the piece follows, works from Noon-to-6 PM. Nilsson works for a Toyota branch that has operated on the 6 hour work day since 2002.
Toyota’s Gothenburg branch introduced the six-hour day in 2002 to make its facilities more efficient by having two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, instead of a single, longer one.
Now, let’s compare this to the [assumed average] daily life of a 25-year-old, single, American mechanic working in a metropolitan center similar to Gothenburg, Sweden (let’s use Kansas City as the equivalent).
Our mechanic will wake up between 5:30 AM – 7:00 AM (dependent on if he is inclined to exercise). He’ll shower, rush a breakfast (if he eats at all), get dressed, and begin a 15-30 minute commute to work so that he can arrive at the mechanic shop early enough to clock in before 8:00 AM. Most likely he is an hourly employee, so being on time effects the time that he can leave in the evening. He will drowsily work through the morning, becoming more productive as his body wakes up, but his work is still lacking his full attention. Due to missing breakfast, he will leave around Noon (having already worked 4 hours at this point) to find lunch–Mr. Nilsson is just now getting to work. Since his commute home would consume nearly half of his lunch hour, he’s forced to buy lunch (if he didn’t pack one). At 1:00 PM, he will return to work. It may take him some time to get started on his next task though because he’s having to get everything in order from how he left it prior to lunch. For the business, this means that customers are waiting longer, which means a less-likely chance at retaining business. Our mechanic will work until ~4:00 PM, when he can take his one and only 15 minute break of the day. Again, he returns to work, spending an additional 10-15 minutes refocusing on his duties. By 4:50 PM, he’s merely waiting for the clock to hit 5:00 PM so that he can head home. By the end of the business day, Mr. Mechanic “wasted” an estimated 1.5 hours at work eating lunch, taking a break, and collecting his thoughts so that he can focus on his work.
To put this in perspective, he has spent 1/4th of Mr. Nilsson’s day eating, pissing, and attempting to find the motivation to begin a task…
In Sweden, Mr. Nilsson was able to wake up his mind and body, take care of some errands, head to work and work through his shift with minimal breaks, and return home with enough time in the evening to wind down. All while being paid the same amount as a 40 hour worker–if not more [source].
Of course, our mechanic is fictional and the details of his day were made up on-the-spot…yet, why did it sound so familiar? That is due to the fact that (only) 63.2% of working age Americans currently live through these exact same scenarios on a daily basis. All because industry started believing that the only way to advance is to work, and workers cost money (for the businesses), and thus employers conclude that, “if I am going to pay for a worker they best-better damn work hard for me.” Yet, a stick is slowly creeping into the spokes of these practitioners. A younger generation, one that believes that having a life is more important than creating a life through wealth, is beginning to challenge this status quo.
The Future Is Not The Past
In the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was becoming a global phenomenon of innovation and economic growth. We can trace the roots of the 8 hour work day to this time period [source]. In the United States, the government instituted regulations that required companies to limit work hours, as well as regulate the minimum wage payable to employees. Now, at the time, this was a god-send for the folks working 12, 14, 16, hour work days. Yet, as is typical with government regulations, businesses used these regulations to create a new working culture. All of a sudden, employees are pinned to a strict 40 hour schedule, which isn’t seen as an issue prior to the “Era of the Single Parent.”
With this strict schedule comes the standards of what a good employee is–and only good employees are promoted. Showing up to work on time. Not leaving work before a shift is over. Devoting one’s self to their work (leisure can come with retirement). This is the only way to advance in life. Advancement = more money. Money = security. etc…Now introduce factors like car loans, paying for ridiculously inflated college tuitions, and single-parenthood, to see that our lives are so tied into work that many of us do not even have the motivation to cook our dinner out of the fear that we will sacrifice our sacred personal time.
On top of this all, less-and-less Americans can afford a college degree (despite the fact that a bachelors degree is equivalent to a high school diploma), which means more-and-more of them can only take low / mid level paying jobs. We won’t go too much into detail about the need for education reform (as that will be addressed later), but it is a factor that must be considered.
Combine all of this together and you place us in the world that we now devote our lives to. Yet, this is also the “Technological Revolution.” We are automating our workforce and turning our eyes to the capabilities of a digital world. Companies like Google seemingly appear to be taking over, and what do we see? Why, an emphasis on the balances between work and life, of course! The fact is, the companies that are dominant in the stock market are either established companies (GE, Exxon, Johnson & Johnson, etc.), or young companies that value their employees (Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook). Even companies like Google are advocating the reduction of the work week [source]. Is it so that their employees can take better care of themselves, which will reduce healthcare costs that the company offers to pay for? Possibly.
The most likely reason for this evolution in reason is that industry leaders see the evidence that valuing an employee makes them happier, more productive workers. An employee who can enjoy his family / personal life, and not feel the looming cloud of work hanging over them, is more likely to come to work each day energized and ready to effectively (and efficiently) complete their work.
Maintaining Reason and The Benefits of Work/Life Balance
Since we’ve clearly established that we are opposed to the ideology that grunt-work and man-hours drives innovation and productivity, let’s now jump into the [theoretical] opportunity we have to create a better society through our work-culture.
As it does with all things, the government will begin pressuring employers and businesses to follow regulations (just like it already does). Politicians will see the desire of the population to make the change. Politicians seeking election will create policy that will “change the way we work, for the better!” Sorry folks, but we’re bearish on the desire to let government control our lives. This movement needs to be an organic ideology that consumes employers and industry leaders, and trickle its way down to the smaller businesses. American citizens need to feel cared for by their employers, so as to avoid the “welfare mentality” that already consumes nearly 4.1% of our population (roughly 12,800,000 people–imagine the the population of New York City for scope).
This security and stability that Americans receive from their companies will encourage them to develop personally; be it through education or pursuing their own goals/dreams. Less time sitting in an office chair means more time to get up and move, allowing people to improve their health habits. Ambitious Americans can maintain a full-time job, and start their own business venture on the side (and have the capital to do so, relying less on loans and not accruing debt). The creation of small business means more job opportunities for the 6.3% of Americans who are unemployed. More working Americans means more money invested in education for our youth. A well-educated youth will drive more innovation and stability in the workforce “down-the-road” (ex: Sweden).
We make these assumptions based on physical examples we can see in the world today. This evidence allows us to hypothesize that just having 10 more hours to ourselves per week (outside of work) can possibly change the world as we know it…and for the better too.
By eliminating the 40 hour work week, and taking preventive measures to ensure minimal-to-no government regulation, we can revolutionize the way America views productivity and create a better, healthier society.
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