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Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

Posted October 11, 2016 12:00 PM by Hannes

Discussions around the six-hour workday seem to be the dominant trend around hiring and management this year. In Sweden, a country well-known for its investments in social welfare, nursing home employees in Gothenburg began experimenting with reduced hours in 2015, and many Swedish employers have since switched over to shorter workdays. And while the concept has only been newsworthy for a year or so, Toyota Service Center in Gothenburg established a 30-hour workweek as far back as 2003.

Proponents of the shortened workweek cite studies showing that even people who diligently work a full eight-hour workday are only productive for 6-7 of those hours, resulting in at least five wasted hours per week. Studies find that those working a shorter workweek—for the same full-time pay, by the way—are less prone to burnout, had more time for their private pursuits, and were generally happier and more productive. The shortened workweek might not seem ideal for shift work, but the Toyota Center Gothenburg’s study begs to differ. In a 13-minute presentation, their CEO described how splitting their mechanics’ eight-hour workday into two six-hour shifts enabled the company to extend their hours, eliminate mistakes, improve employee morale, and increase daily billable hours.

The eight-hour day has been commonplace for 100 years or so, but it originated during the Industrial Revolution. In the early 19th century factory workers put in 10-16 hour days, six days a week. As early as 1817 social reformer and utopian socialist Robert Owen petitioned for an eight-hour day, calling for a balanced schedule of “eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation, and eight hours’ rest.” On an international scale the workday dropped to 12 hours, then 10, until eight-hour days became common in many industries in the early 20th century.

So will the 30-hour (or at least shortened) workweek idea cross the Atlantic in the near future? While 40-hour weeks are still the most common schedules among full-time American workers, a 2014 Gallup poll found that Americans average 47 hours per week. But American employers have been experimenting with their own workplace changes, one of the more radical being the results-only work environment, or ROWE.

ROWE goes a step beyond a shortened workweek in that it obliterates consistent working hours altogether, paying employees for their output rather than the hours they put in. Under the ROWE system an employee and his/her manager set concrete goals, and so long as the employee meets their goals it’s irrelevant whether they worked 10 hours per week or 40 to get there. The concept was created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler while they were working at Best Buy (the two have since started their own consulting group for implementing ROWE). Thompson and Ressler envision a work environment in which each person in the organization is 100% accountable, 100% autonomous, and “treated as an adult,” fostering a culture of competence rather than complacency.

ROWE makes a lot of sense on paper—some workers are able to tear through their work in four hours and can relax for the remainder of the day, while others prefer a slower and more balanced approach, and both can achieve the same goals using their own method. And considering again the fact that the eight-hour day doesn’t consist of eight full productive hours, employees wouldn't technically be paid for unproductive hours. The concept was short-lived at Best Buy, though, and CEO Hubert Joly abolished ROWE in 2013 in response to a serious revenue downturn. Joly’s justification was that a downturn requires an “all hands on deck” culture shift, much like Marissa Mayer’s much-publicized decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo earlier in 2013. One major American employer, Gap, still implements ROWE for their corporate employees.

Considering the original conditions that necessitated the eight-hour day, a six-hour day and extremely flexible work environments seem like a lot to ask. But with continued advances in remote technology and more businesses attempting to tighten their belts, we may not have heard the end of ROWE and shortened workdays in the US.

Image credit: chispita_66 / CC BY 2.0

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#1

Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/11/2016 1:12 PM

i have also considered this concept in a family setting . a job sharing among people in same household. allowing for a parent to always be home with children, 18 hrs off between shifts leaving more time for family. 72 hrs of work in a 6 day work week is cost efficient .in the health coverage policies ,eliminates overtime, and allows for a higher annual family income. more paid into ss and reduces the need for many programs set into the welfare system

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#2
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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/11/2016 3:06 PM

Job sharing...

When I was first out of college, the company where I was employed at had about 1,000 at the main plant/headquarters.

They had problems hiring enough people on the line and it was quite normal to have mandatory over-time.

In the city we had a large Moung population so there were a few Moung work on the line. What was happing The company would hire the husband of the household, he put in 40-50 hours/week go home and his wife would also work 40 hours/week under her husbands name. No one knew.

that's 40-50 hours overtime rate. They only got caught when the wife also started working overtime.

Immediately, everyone received picture ID badges.... It may have helped slightly.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/11/2016 5:46 PM

I grew up in the rural farming and ranching culture. To many here a 6 hour workday is 1/3 of a normal day.

My last job in the oil fields had me on the clock for 14 hours a day minimum for 14 - 15 days in a row followed by 6 - 7 days off.

I rather liked it! During work day s you did nothing but work and sleep and had zero time for anything else and knew it then on your days off you had 100% of every day to do as you please for a full week!

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/12/2016 6:28 AM

Hell, for most of us engineers, an 8 hour day would be a significant reduction. Of course, then the program would fall really behind.

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#5

Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/12/2016 7:59 AM

Did the study check if people working for 6 hours are productive for 3-4h?

What about the fix cost of having to people doing the work of one?

The public service people usually have the shortest weeks but they are not known to be very productive.

The less you do, the less you want to do...

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#6

Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/12/2016 10:37 AM

A counter-argument to ROWE could be that the fast workers won't be around the office as much as those who, as Jonathan says, prefer a more balanced approach. Those who aren't in the office don't have as much opportunity for interacting with colleagues, which might negatively affect creativity. I don't completely buy into the idea that more opportunity for watercooler chats results in more creative ideas, but I'm sure that there is some effect.

My guess is that, as millennials take over management positions, we'll see more flexibility in working hours.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/17/2016 3:37 PM

Maybe if all you run is a cubicle farm. It will not work in the power industry, not at all. Twelve hour operations shifts are the norm for the foreseeable future. The upside is the 4- on, 3- off schedule with rotations.

I personally work 8 hours, some days it is not enough, others it seems to be too much.

Fortunately, these days after being demoted, I get overtime. That makes having to come in on Saturday and Sunday more worth something.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/17/2016 4:31 PM

Based on my experience with the millennials, I think you will see less and less getting done as well. There are exceptions though, just have to find them.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/13/2016 9:37 AM

That will work here where I work, if we double our work force. As it is, the majority of workers on the production floor are on 12 hour days at least half the year.

For this to come to be in the USA, wages, which seem to be a bit on the low side, will have to go lower to make it work for the reason pointed out in the first paragraph, or all benefits cut.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/13/2016 9:55 AM

One would have to look at the hidden costs that are added to the company of additional employees which can be substantial.

payroll taxes, added insurance cost, possibly even more personnel to handle the added personnel.

Maybe some are offset with reduced hours, such as workman's compensation but very unlikely.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 8:46 AM

I can second that comment. My experience came from being paid hourly in a manufacturing environment. Management knew it was cheaper to pay us overtime than to hire more employees and that would be compounded by having to let people go when orders were slow to come in. For much of the year we could count on 55 hour work weeks. Yes, there were concessions in terms of our family lives but my wife was able to stay home with the kids as we did not need the added income from a second wage earner. Ultimately, working 55 hour weeks led to retirement when I was 55 years old. Plenty of time for family now.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 9:55 AM

Management knew it was cheaper to pay us overtime than to hire more employees and that would be compounded...

I was going to use that as an example. Being a small business owner employing 20-25 people, that's what I did. With the exception of drawing a line on the duration with a schedule heavy shop load and current overtime. Then I would already be looking to add people.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 10:34 AM

You have it correct in my mind. Overtime is sometimes necessary on a short term basis, especially when you do not have a steady work load. In my case we are a custom build shop in a very competitive market. We either have a short term or long term schedule that may be a year away but for only a few months then.

There are other reasons for utilizing overtime as well - one big one is the cost of the process to hire and train people and then the learning curve if they are not going to be around for a long time, that is if you go through the process of training like I do.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 10:48 AM

How I saw it, short term. If you brought people in, depending of the skill level, the training involved, if the workload dropped off, you'd actually take a step back.

The included any rework, or mostly having a higher skill level do the training that removed him from the being most productive because he was training new people.

That's what I hired long term. It more fair all around. As long as the employees took the OT on voluntary basis, which they did.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 4:27 PM

Being a small business owner employing 20-25 people

The opposite end of the spectrum for me, a Fortune 500 company. My division had several hundred employees.

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/14/2016 5:53 PM

Then you may have a better idea of extra costs... especially with a 401k company match

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Re: Will Six-hour Workdays Catch On In America?

10/13/2016 9:58 AM

A shorter work day may work for some. In my opinion it all depends on who your customers are and how much competition you have. Increasingly so, it all comes down to the bottom line. For a lot of companies, such as mine (manufacturing hard goods specific to certain commodities), where the competition is very stiff, reducing the hours but keeping the same amount of remuneration would price us out of our market as we compete continent wide and not every country "plays by the same rules". Some will say that we should not be in that business then, but I will not agree as everyone has to make a living somehow and employing people for a fair wage grows the economy. What would my 50 or so employees do if they did not work for me?? I guess there is always burger flipping for about 1/2 of the wage I pay(and probably no benefit package). Not many decent jobs in durable goods manufacturing around any more.

I did try flex time for awhile, but it turned out to be a scheduling nightmare, as is probably usual where you have teams of workers together on the same project where each worker is dependent on the others for specific "portions" and cannot do their part until they have those "portions".

As above, for some it may work, but for many others it is not an option.

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