“It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege,” said Henry Ford, American founder of Ford motor company. Ford revolutionized the workforce by scaling back working hours and paying his employees generous sums, resulting in greater production. Though sustainable wages have proven successful in the past, they clearly did not last long. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week as of 2020 at the expense of the nation’s economy and employees.
Though Americans are working harder and longer hours than ever before, they are making considerably less due to inflation. The American dream — a house surrounded by a white picket fence in a safe neighborhood– is nearly impossible without working long hours and attaining a college degree.
This trend arose from the American ideal that working harder for longer hours increases success and prosperity. Unfortunately, this statement is not true.
According to PBS, Professor Adam Grant of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business states, “Workers can be as productive and creative in six focused hours as in eight unfocused hours. For this reason, he suggests the workday should end at 3, instead of 5 p.m.”
Not only does this trend affect nationwide productivity, overworking has far reaching effects for the demographics of large cities like San Diego. A direct result of overworking is movement out of competitive cities due to lack of available jobs and housing. According to ABC 10 news, “From 2007 to 2012, San Diego lost more than 7,400 people between the ages of 25 to 34 annually. From 2012 to 2017, the number dropped slightly to a little more than 7,000.”
Other countries are starting to experiment with shortened workweeks due to the detrimental side effects of overwork described above. For example, many organizations in Europe are shortening workweeks while keeping wages steady from 36 hours (five days) to 28 hours (four days), according to Harvard Business News. The results are promising.
“Half of the UK business leaders we surveyed reported [in relation to the four day work week] that employee satisfaction has improved, employee sickness has reduced, and savings of almost £92 billion (around 2% of total turnover) are being made each year,” according to Harvard Business News.
One reason other nations are not shifting to a four day workweek is the constant learning, unlearning, and relearning associated with multiple businesses. Technological innovation progresses at an exponential speed, meaning old concepts and data are constantly scrapped in light of new knowledge. This cycle results in increased work loads and hours in order to understand new material. What a lot of employees and employers overlook, however, is that an active, fresh mind, can best absorb new information, not a tired, overworked one.
In a study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. Reid was not able to find any evidence that the overworking employees accomplished more.
If America truly wishes to progress into a successful, innovative future, the definition of full time work must be changed. Ford realized this in the twentieth century, and his industry boomed. Countless hours spent in the office does nothing to inspire; however, a perfect work-life balance does. Without variation within our lives there will be stagnation, and constant stagnation equates to a nonexistent, uninspiring future.