Taking it Easier: Four Arguments for a Shorter Work Week

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE

“Don’t count the days; make the days count.” ― Muhammed Ali, American boxer.

We’d all like to work less, wouldn’t we? It would be nice to take our retirement in installments, like John D. McDonald’s sleuth Travis Magee, but that’s not an option for most of us.

One thing many of us try to do is arrange to work fewer days. This usually involves cramming the same 40 hours into fewer days, such as working four ten-hour days while taking Fridays off. But with “flex-time,” as it’s generally called, you still end up working 40-hour weeks, minimum.

But how about shorter workweeks, period? Study after study has shown that workweeks of 32-36 hours tend to be more fruitful than their 40-hour counterparts. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Productivity increases. Obviously, there’s a point of diminishing returns, but salaried people who’ve tested workweeks of 32-36 hours tend to perform better and accomplish more than their colleagues who work a traditional eight-hour day, five days a week. And they do better than those who work longer than 40 hours per week. They’re more efficient and productive, with less wasted time — possibly because they’re quite aware they have less time they can
  2. Workers are happier. Happier, healthier workers more easily embrace their jobs and perform better. Pretty much self-explanatory. With shorter weeks, workers experience less job-related stress, get more rest, often have more pleasant commutes, and, for parents, experience less worry about childcare. They also have more time for themselves, their families, and their favorite pursuits. Add it all up, and it results in greater happiness.
  3. Workers are healthie We know that healthier people are more productive, even if they work fewer hours per week than the average bear. They experience fewer stress-related illnesses, take fewer sick days, feel better rested, display more flexibility, and are less likely to experience burnout. In the end, this results in less time lost to illness, which, again, can resulted in a greater percentage of productive hours than longer, stressful workweeks.
  4. Workers are more loyal. Happier, healthier employees are less likely to leave for greener pastures. Employees of the Millennial and Gen-Z cohorts don’t have the baked-in company loyalty their parents and grandparents had, probably because they’ve seen how corporate loyalty toward employees melted away after the dotcom bubble popped, especially during the Great Recession. Amazon just announced it is dumping 16,000 employees. Hence the lack of loyalty on the employee side of the aisle. A shorter workweek would be very attractive and make them not as apt to leave.

Positive Feedback

All four of these factors reinforce each other in the best productive sense. Workers prove happier and healthier when they work fewer than 40 hours per week; happiness breeds greater health and vice versa; loyal workers work harder for you because they’re happier and feel better, increasing the happiness and productivity all around… you get the picture. It’s a kind of positive feedback loop.

We’ll never cut our work hours back to George Jetson’s three hours a day, three days a week, or Tim Ferriss’s optimistic four-hour workweek. But we can easily cut back our regular workweeks by four to eight hours, and according to the science, still get all our work done.

© 2023 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is known as The Productivity Pro®. She is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on personal productivity. For 30 years, she has given keynote speeches and workshops on increasing workplace productivity in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including the bestselling What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do. She is a past president of the National Speakers Association and a member of the exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame. To book Laura speak at an upcoming meeting or event, contact her at www.TheProductivityPro.com.