How many hours should you work every week? In a nutshell, fewer

Research shows that fewer hours or a shorter workweek can improve productivity and employee sentiment

By Amara Rozgus October 16, 2023
Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Insights on a changed workweek

  • UAW strikes and bargaining helped create what the U.S. now considers a “standard” 40-hour workweek.
  • Manufacturing and industrial plants frequently have multiple shifts, and are able to adjust an employee’s workweek to meet the needs of each shift.

The UAW strike has been interesting to watch. On the one hand, union leaders are bargaining for many things: higher pay, a different workweek structure and better retirement plans. On the flipside, the three U.S. automakers seem to have several challenges: profits are targeted for the transition to electric vehicles, the supply chain problems continue and the labor shortage remains a challenge for them. The icing on the cake for everyone: artificial intelligence looms large.

There is no one solution and, like any negotiation, not everyone will walk away happy.

One of the most thought-provoking demands by the UAW is for employees to work a 32-hour workweek at 40 hours of pay. The UAW is calling for the introduction of a four-day, 32-hour workweek at the same rate of pay, and overtime pay for anything beyond that.

Is a four-day workweek even possible? The short answer is “yes.” But put an asterisk on that.

The world’s most extensive four-day workweek research study to date — in which 2,900 workers from 61 companies in the U.K. participated from June to December 2022 — shows various four-day-week models, with days “off” staggered, decentralized and annualized, were followed.

The trial found that the four-day workweek significantly increased job satisfaction, improved work-life balance and reduced employee stress. The results also showed improved product quality and customer service, and a significant reduction in absences and sick days. Nine in 10 of the participating companies are continuing with the four-day workweek, many of which have declared it will be permanent.

In another study, full-time salaried U.S. employees were surveyed. Most agreed the workweek could be more efficiently done in four 10-hour days. Relatively few survey respondents would take a pay cut in exchange for working fewer days.

Some industries must always remain open, such as hospitals. Manufacturing and industrial plants rarely shut down entirely, unless it’s a planned outage or routine maintenance. Any industry at peak demand is loathe to close to help it keep up with customer demand.

So what workweek scenario is possible? What is more productive? What will end the strike?

A study from 2014 shows that hourly production drops off quite a bit after 50 hours of work per week. That essentially means that a long workweek is less beneficial; the workweek with fewer days improved productivity.

This topic has been debated for years. Workers in France work 35 hours per week, and anything above that is considered overtime. So what is the perfect number for the manufacturing workforce? Union bargaining may help guide us in the coming years.

Author Bio: Amara Rozgus is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader