The latest generation of Americans to enter the labor force is reshaping the way the country goes to work. Millennials, those who reached adulthood around the year 2000, want to work a less rigid schedule, which could mean the end of the fixed 40-hour work week.
Kerri Stone, a professor at Florida International College of Law in Miami, Florida, says millennials place greater value on their free time, and studies have shown that reducing working hours can result in real workplace efficiencies.
"After so many hours per week," Stone said, "you do get diminishing returns. If you have to put in a certain amount of face time, people, even subconsciously, will build it into their day. 'I’m going to eat, I’m going to check my email, I’m going to say ‘hi’ to my neighbor.'"
As a group, Stone says millennials embrace the idea that "people need a certain amount of down time and a certain amount of vacation" in order to be happy at work and at home.
Cost of imbalance
A Seattle, Washington, based organization, Take Back Your Time, seeks to challenge the epidemic of what it calls overwork in the United States and Canada. Its primary goal is to push for changes such as reduced work hours, guaranteed paid vacation, and at least one week of sick leave to eliminate any work-induced threat to a person’s health, personal and family relationships, and community relationships.
“I think one has to allow employees to have greater choice," said Ted Bililies, a psychologist and managing director of AlixPartners, a business consulting firm. "Stress is not uncommon in the workplace along with physical and mental health issues. Stress is a huge predictor of cardiac problems for America.”
Bililies calls it “an epidemic of work or workaholism.”
For the past year, a small company in San Diego, California, called Tower Paddleboards, has implemented a revolutionary alternative to the 40-hour plus work week. They have instituted a 5-hour workday for their 11 employees. Entrepreneur Stephan Aarstol, Tower CEO, challenges the 8-hour workday, calling it “something that was invented for factory workers 100 years ago.”
He says he made changes because, “Disease is on the rise. People are sedentary. Prescription drugs and alcoholism are on the rise.”
Aarstol believes “making a little more money for lots more hours does not make people happy. The 5-hour work day gives time back to pursue other things in life. More time with relationships and children.”
The company reports that it is more profitable than ever.
What will people do less of?
But does a reduced work day result in more efficiencies?
Duke professor Dan Ariely says there are three things we do at work: “We do productive, thoughtful, deep useful work. We do mindless detail-oriented work that doesn’t need a lot of concentration but has to be done, and we waste time.”
It is Ariely’s contention that if you decrease the work day from 8 hours to 5, and all of that decrease comes from the time-waste activity, there’s no problem. However, "I suspect that very little of the meaningless and mindless work will go down, and what we would lose is some of the meaningful work," he said.
Trend in America
Despite the push by some workers to reduce their hours at the office, some of American's best-known companies are known for their highly-driven, "workaholic," culture.
Tower Paddleboards' Aarstol says, “I think people are trying a bunch of different things. Some people are just working more and more and seeing how that can go. Tesla, Apple and Amazon have hordes of workers that are super-high performers. They’re working around-the-clock, 24/7 with smartphones and computers, and they’re doing some amazing things."
He added, "That’s what I was doing. You can work yourself into this unhealthy lifestyle."
For Aarstol and some other corporate executives, there's a hope that what's good for their employees can also be profitable for their bottom line.