The Future of the 40 Hour Work Week

For over a century, the 40-hour workweek has been accepted as the standard for a full-time career. In the face of digital disruption in every industry and changes in worker demands for work-life balance, however, some companies benefit from rethinking a 40-hour week.

The History of the 40-Hour Work Week

For centuries, workers did not adhere to any particular number of hours worked per week. For instance, in the mostly agrarian societies of medieval Europe, people worked from sunup to sundown – taking time off for various holidays.

During the Industrial Revolution, however, workers began pushing for shorter workdays. While ten to 16-hour workdays were the norm in many factories, workers soon understood that this schedule was not only difficult but dangerous. Labor activists began to demand eight-hour workdays with weekends free. The 40-hour workweek was a cornerstone of several pieces of legislation, including the New Deal.

Is 40 Hours a Week the Best Schedule?

Today, most of us take for granted that 40 hours a week is a reasonable full-time schedule. Studies of work productivity, however, indicate that 40 hours a week isn’t the optimal schedule.

For instance, most research now indicates that productivity can’t be sustained at a high level across 40 hours of work a week – and that in fact, most office workers lose 3 to 5 hours a day in less-productive or non-productive tasks, like filing paperwork or chatting around the water cooler. Also, some days of the week are more productive than others: Workers throughout the US get more done on Monday and Tuesday than they do on Friday.

Alternatives to a 40-Hour Work Week

Although working 40 or more hours a week is often a badge of pride in the US, other countries are cutting the workweek to 30 hours or even less – with positive results for health and productivity.

Remote work and telecommuting offer options for keeping productivity high without demanding a 40-hour week. When work demands are focused on deliverables, workers have an incentive to deliver high-quality work more quickly, so they can use their free time to recharge.

For employers, working with contract or temporary staff can also provide a cost-effective alternative to hiring 40 hour a week long-term staff. Your recruiter can help you determine whether temporary staff are the right choice for your team.

At THE RIGHT STAFF, LLC, our recruiters help companies in St. Paul and surrounding communities find the talent they need to boost productivity and meet their business goals. To learn more, contact us today.

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