In 1926, the founder of the Ford Motor Company Henry Ford suggested in a time when the six-day working week was the norm, that “we should move to a five-day working week” which would double the weekend for workers, and should not affect pay.
The level of productivity from his employees was tested before this statement was made, and it was found that “in changing from six to five days and back again”, that “we can get at least as great production in five days as we can in six”.
Can We Go Further than Henry Ford Did?
John Maynard Keynes, one of the most revered modern economists, predicted in 1930 that the working week of the future will be cut to around 15 hours a week, with plenty of available leisure time to meet the material requirements of individual economic agents.
This would have been made possible by a vast increase in the living standards of progressive economies. Fortunately for the workaholics among us, only the prediction of an increase in living standards has been achieved since this was hypothesised.
Carlos Slim (the world’s fifth richest man) recommended at a business conference in Paraguay that a three day working week is something which should be adopted by companies around the world to improve the quality of life of its employees.
His plan to see the quality of work improve suggests an increase of working hours and people working past the current retirement age of 67 hoping that these negative factors would be offset by the doubling of leisure time.
Carlos Slim’s argument is backed by the fact that changes to the work week at the beginning of the 20th century were done so when life expectancy was much lower, and the standard of living was not as high as it is now.
However, the change from six to five day is relatively smaller than the change from five to three.
Is There Any Evidence to Support a Shorter Work Week?
In 1973 during the coal miners’ strike in the United Kingdom, the Government imposed an emergency three day working week which was in place for three months.
The result of this drop in working hours was observed by economists to only have reduced overall productivity by 6% (from a 40% reduction in hours) that proved how productivity per hour worked had increased significantly.
Furthermore, a similar outcome was achieved by the Australian firm Trico (which deals with freights and cargo transportation).
After enforcing a four day week, their costs actually fell due to not having to run their business on the fifth day, and lost hours were made up for by increased productivity and a reduction in absenteeism from 13.2% to 2.1%.
In addition to the reduction in absenteeism, it would be fair to assume that the potential reduction in time spent at work and increase in available leisure time could also see a significant reduction in cases of depression, stress related diseases and general sickness improving the overall health of workers.
Sleep deprivation which is a major health concern in multiple countries due to working conditions could be be mitigated allowing for greater cognitive performance and increased productivity.
Psychologist Daniel Skarlicki actually observed how employees who feel like they are underpaid for the hours worked are more likely to treat office materials with disrespect and employees who work unpaid overtime are likely to slow down the pace of their work, or increase time spent on breaks, lunch time and through browsing non-work related websites.
These situations point to a feeling of negative emotion, and could easily create workforces which are accustomed to producing lacklustre work, and who do not feel as though they have a vested interest in the success of the company.
Are There Any Other Benefits to a Reduced Work Week?
Increased productivity is not the only observed benefit; the paper called “Will a Shorter Work Week Help to Reduce Unemployment” noted that average weekly working hours in West Germany had reduced by 3% between 1973 and 1979, but simultaneously saw an increase of 480,000 jobs.
Whilst taking into account the reduced demand for labour from higher wages, and increased productivity, this figure was revised to 240,000 jobs.
For a nation such as the United Kingdom which has around 1.3m people currently unemployed, the opportunity to create jobs which would see an increase in total revenue from income taxes and a reduction in social security spending should be seriously considered.
It is often a complaint of the average worker that “the weekend is not long enough” and that they wish they had more time to do the things which interest them (where people are just living to work rather than working to live).
As mentioned before, the increase of leisure time through less working hours could see fewer people suffering mental and physical health issues, more time to pursue more fulfilling activities, and would allow us to spend more time with our family and friends, maintaining and strengthening these relationships to fortify a stronger society.
By having more time to pursue our individual interests would provide a greater sense of control over our lives, increasing efficiency and happiness.
Are There Non-Personal Benefits to a Reduced Work Week?
If you need more convincing, the move to a shorter working week would almost certainly see a reduction in fuel consumption from commuting, less traffic in the roads, less money spent on road maintenance, and less cost due to travel.
I’m sure the advocates of a greener nation will also back the move to a shorter working week if only for these reasons.
The move from a well-established five day working week to anything less may not be entirely practical (e.g. a teacher not being available for the same number of days as present could disrupt the education of our youngest generation), but there are some real economic benefits which could be realised.
While the recommendation seems too drastic, a gradual lessening in the working hours in certain sectors of the economy could serve as a test for its implementation in other areas.
If the Germans and Dutch can provide a stronger economy with shorter working hours than the British and Americans, then why shouldn’t we consider it?