Office workers traveling to and from work. Perhaps they should be able to get out sooner rather than later, with a 30-hour work week. (Image Source: Flickr: Much Ramblings)
The de facto full-time standard work week in America is 40 hours long, though some places (and the Affordable Care Act) consider 30-35 hours full time. The result of years of protest, negotiation, and lobbying, the 40 hour work week is something that has represented the middle and working classes for more than a century. However, the times have changed, with many workers now receiving a guaranteed salary rather than hourly wages. Still, now, as then, time is becoming a more precious commodity to people, and perhaps the time has come to reduce the work week further, as some economists are now suggesting in a new book. Honestly, it would be ideal to reduce the work week to 30 hours, at the very least.
People see the 40 hour work week as just that: 40 hours. But when one takes into account commuting to and from work, they may as well add another 5 hours or so to their work week. In some places, they may as well add 10 or 15, depending on how far they drive or take public transit. That is a lot of time spent getting around, and is less time doing more important things. Reducing the work week to take commute into account would be a start, but let us take things further by just reducing it to 30 hours.
The benefits of more free time are huge. For young people, a reduced work week while on the same pay grade means more free time, more time to actually enjoy oneself and not feel stressed out about work. For families, 10 extra hours can going towards caring for the children, which reduces stress overall. For any individuals, two extra hours of free time per day can be used to pursue more creative activities, exercise, visiting the doctor. When people are able to do things that reduce the amount of stress they possess, they turn out healthier overall, spending later years not having to worry about health issues brought on by stress and not taking care of oneself.
What is there to lose from those 10 hours per week? Productivity? Productivity tends to actually decline the more hours people work. By concentrating productivity into a smaller set of hours, creativity increases greatly, and benefits companies as a whole, reducing hours wasted on a project or the like due to lack of willpower or inspiration. This is not to say people should be restricted from working more than that. In some cases, putting in the extra time helps finish a project. However, it does not help project when such hours are standard, as it appears in some industries, even today.
As it stands, the average American worker produces about four times as much as they did in the 1950s, while the number of hours have remained the same. So much stress is work-related thanks to this massive increase in productivity, and working 30 hours instead of 40 can help alleviate that. Perhaps it is time to focus less on pay raises and vacation time, and more on working less, period.