California’s progressiveness has been a possible lead to new workplace trends. Now AB 2932, which is moving through the state legislature, would change the definition of a workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours for companies with more than 500 employees. However, a full workday would remain at 8 hours. Under California law working more than 32 hours would then lead to overtime pay. This law would impact about 2,600 businesses and more than 3.6 million employees.
It was here in Detroit that the 40-hour workweek was championed. Henry Ford in 1926 found through research that working more hours only yielded a small increase in productivity that lasted a short period of time. Before then, employees working 60 hours or more per week wasn’t unheard of. In the 1930s, the Fair Labor Standards Act legalized and institutionalized the 40-hour workweek. For non-exempt employees, working more hours would yield a benefit of time and a half of the hourly pay (whatever that may be and is still the subject of numerous lawsuits). For exempt employees, they might receive straight time overtime after 45 or 50 hours of work. Even though premiums are baked into the exempt salary, employers found there may be more need for incentives, especially during specific busy times of the year.
As work and life lines started to blur during the pandemic, the thought of scientists turned to the mental activity of employees, recognizing around 40 hours is about the optimal for the physical aspect of any job. “We have extended past what science says was good for the human body at 40 hours for physical work,” says Stephanie Bolster McCannon, organizational psychologist and wellness coach. “Mental work is another whole ballgame. Thinking is very taxing and requires a lot of energy. Neuroscience tells us that whenever the synapses are firing and we’re thinking hard, we use a lot of glucose.”
The issue is more pronounced for women than men, as they tend to be the caregivers and work never ends. The standard workweek needs to be re-examined and is considered archaic by some. As Boster McCannon states, “[m]ost of today’s households have dual income earners. You have both people out of the home for eight hours or more. Then they come home and work again, taking care of the house and family. It’s no longer an eight-hour workday, especially for females in our society, who often take on a larger portion of the household and family responsibilities.”
Another factor in favor of a reduced workweek comes from the great resignation and the recruiting wars. “The war for talent is so competitive,” says Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR division. “Companies are tired of paying people 20% more money to come to their company only to go someplace else six months later for 20% more. They’re rethinking the 40-hour workweek and saying, ‘We’re not going to pay you more, but you’re going to work less.’ It’s a way to attract and retain talent.”
As Mary Corrado, ASE President and CEO, pointed out in a recent blog, experimenting with the workweek is something employers might consider. Is it every other Friday off, or is it a complete reduction to 32 hours over a workweek? The jury is still out. Will productivity take a hit or will it improve? Only time will tell. “Some studies show that when people work less, they actually do produce less output, but it’s about 3% or 4% less,” Kropp says. “The decrease in time is not equal to the decrease in output that emerges as organizations are experimenting with these sorts of different approaches. And some of the same studies also show that they’re also less likely to quit.”
Yet once in, can an employer backtrack? It may mean trying to hire additional workers if the schedules do not work. The next thought is how pay is impacted. If the workweek is reduced 20%, should pay be reduced 20%? And if so, will applicants and employees accept that “new normal?”
Lastly, even if employees are not working those additional hours anymore, they still have to occupy their time. Some may have hobbies, household duties, etc. Could employees take on a second job while working for the employer and how would that impact the employment relationship? Employers need to think all aspects through thoughtfully before implementing any reduction in the workweek, even if government is becoming quite heavy handed in its approach.
Source: Fast Company 5/31/22