The Compressed Workweek: Will the standard 40 hour work week become a thing of the past?

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The 8 hour work day has become a mainstay in the American workplace. It has become so typical in our workforce, that it’s difficult to imagine it was ever any different.

As it turns out, not too long ago—it was.

At the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution had changed a whole lot about the life of the American middle class.

During this time, companies were seeking to increase the output of their factories by running them for as many hours as possible. This was bad news for the American middle class worker, who at the time consisted of men, women and in some cases-children. To compensate for the increase in output, they would be required to work 10-16 hour days, 6 days a week. In addition to these grueling work hours, wages were considerably low at that time, making the lengthy 10-16 hour work days necessary to just get by.

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that things began to change in favor of the labor force.

Progress for the 8 hour work day was slow but continued to gain momentum until finally, in 1937 it was standardized and regulated by the United Stated Federal Government.

The long journey of the 8 hour work week could be foreshadowing the possible progress of a new concept that is gaining interest in the always evolving discussions surrounding workplace policies.

Carlos Slim, the Mexican philanthropist, investor and business magnate, recently proposed his concept of a 3 day work week at a business conference in Paraguay, insisting that a more compressed work week would better compliment the economic and demographic reality of the current world we live in.

And he’s not the only one who thinks so. Lisa Horn, co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management said in a recent article for Forbes.com that it was a “great way to provide employees the flexibility to meet the demands of work and life outside of work.”

In the same article, former Chief Executive of Slingshot SEO adds, “It’s an amazing draw in the age of recruiting the best talent for your team.” To further support these claims, there is a very real desire from job seekers for employment situations with more flexible work hours. Cofounder and Chief Executive of Hourly.com, Brooke Dixon says “Well above half of our users are looking for something other than a traditional work week.”

It seems that for American employees, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

According to the Captive Networks recent “Homing from Work” survey, out of approximately 4,000 white collar workers, 45% leave work for a doctors or dentist appointment, while 52% of workers leave to buy gifts, greeting cards, flowers and run miscellaneous errands.

Since 2011, there has been a 31% increase in employees running errands outside of work, much to the displeasure of their employers. Are these symptoms of an underlying issue in the American workforce? And if so, could a shorter work week be the answer?

To further suggest the need for a change, according to an article from the American Institute of Stress,

“Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control, but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders.”

Not only has the daily grind produced a negative impact on our physical health, but our emotional and family life seems to suffer the repercussions as well.

“By all of our measures, jobs have become much more hectic and demanding,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York in a recent article for nbcnews.com. “People feel like they don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Which, not surprisingly, doesn’t leave a whole lot of time and energy left over for their spouses and children.

Divorce numbers could be rising due to the lack of attention given to the marriage.

Larry Birnbach, co-author and psychotherapist stated in a 2011 article for the Chicago Tribune that “ A failure to give marriage top priority is a major cause of the breakdown of marriages in our country. Fun and romance have gotten lost between job stress, family stress and money problems.”

The evidence seems to suggest that it’s time to re-evaluate the way the American workforce is structured for the benefit of our physical, mental and emotional well being.

Although, it could be worse. It could be the 18th century.

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