32-Hour Work Week
For some American workers, the COVID-19 lockdowns provided a taste of what a healthy work/life balance could look like. For some, it was an opportunity to slow down, spend more time with family, and indulge in the personal interests that give our lives meaning and inspire our creativity.
A lifestyle of perpetual restlessness leaves workers little time to spend with their family, little time for rest, and contributes to burnout. The truth is American workers are exhausted. On average, American workers work 300 hours more per year than do average European workers - we’re the outliers.
Healing from this pandemic should also mean leaving behind an economic system that has suffocated our inspiration and left us exhausted. Just as we rejected a 44-hour work week in 1938, it’s time to improve the lives of American workers and adopt a 32-hour work week.
The economic and social benefits aren’t speculative. Workers are happier and healthier when given the opportunity to take care of themselves. Workers who work fewer hours have more time with their family, have greater job satisfaction, and reduce their risks of depression and stroke.
Even employers are realizing the economic benefits of a shorter work week and have moved in this direction. In 1926, Henry Ford cut his company’s work schedule from six days to five. This was motivated by his goal to increase productivity. In 2019, Microsoft’s shift to a four-day work week improved productivity by 40%. Earlier this year, Panasonic and Bolt also introduced a four-day work week.
This isn’t a radical, left-wing proposal. In 1956, even Nixon had predicted a four-day work week in the “not too distant future.” Studies suggest a shorter work week results in fewer workers having to use sick time, lower healthcare premiums, greater employee retention, happier and more productive employees, and greater employee efficiency and creativity.
The environmental impact of a 32-hour work week shouldn’t be overlooked. At the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, both air and water quality improved. Avoiding daily commutes to the office has the potential to positively contribute towards our climate response.
There are a few legitimate concerns regarding its implementation, but they're certainly not insurmountable. The first is the belief that, in an attempt to avoid providing health benefits, employers will start scheduling employees for fewer hours. This was the same concern highlighted during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. To overcome this, this bill should be accompanied by H.R. 1976 (Single-payer Universal Healthcare), which completely removes the burden of providing health benefits from employers; health benefits would no longer be tied to employment status. The second concern is that 32 hours an inadequate number of hours for workers to survive. To overcome this, the bill should be accompanied by a federal guarantee for livable wages - an increase in the minimum wage. The third concern is that this bill would disproportionately burden small businesses. To protect small businesses, the bill should be accompanied by provisions which provide generous tax benefits for small business owners. There's no reason we can't accomplish research-informed policy without disproportionately burdening small businesses.