Studies show that Americans work longer hours than many people in Europe and Japan, with many US employees spending 50 hours at work each week.
Though the average number of hours spent at work each week is not going down significantly in the United States, some American companies and local governments are joining other parts of the world in testing whether a reduction in the number of weekly work hours can boost employee productivity.
There is research to support these policy changes. Psychologist Anders Ericsson, who specialises in the science of peak performance, suggests that people can only concentrate on their work for four to five hours in one sitting. And a 2016 survey of nearly 2,000 office workers in the United Kingdom claims that the average employee works for roughly three hours during an eight-hour day.
Most recently, a New Zealand company’s staff worked for 32 hours a week during March and April. The 240 employees were still paid for five days of work.
Here are some of the most prominent experiments in shortening the workweeks:
After experimenting with a 32-hour workweek, a New Zealand firm wants to make the policy change permanent.
The firm, which manages estates, trusts, and wills, says employee productivity increased during the experiment.
According to the New York Times, Perpetual Guardian supervisors saw improvements in employee attendance and creativity during the experiment.
Company founder Andrew Barnes told The Times that a permanent policy change would benefit mothers the most, allowing them to complete a full-time amount of work in fewer hours. The policy could also lead to lower electricity bills and fewer cars on the road during rush hour, Barnes said.
Barnes said he believes Perpetual Guardian is the first firm in the world to pay employees for 40 hours despite operating on a 32-hour week.
Retirement-home workers in Sweden reported greater happiness during a trial of a 30-hour workweek — but the city’s budget took a significant hit.
In Sweden, a government study selected a group of retirement-home workers to work 30 hours a week while receiving pay for 40 hours. (Most elder-care in the country is funded by municipal taxes and government grants.)
The study ran from February 2015 to December 2016, and the employees later reported that a six-hour day made them happier and less stressed.
Participating employees enjoyed their work more during this time, but the change was expensive: City officials needed to hire more than a dozen people to cover the shifts left vacated by the roughly 70 workers who got more time off.
The payroll grew about 22% during the study. A local politician told The New York Times that lower unemployment costs offset this hike by roughly 10%, but the overall cost nevertheless increased.
According to The Washington Post, the study also concluded that nurses working six hours a day were more active, less sick, and had less neck and back pain than nurses working eight-hour days.
Amazon let a dozen employees work 30 hours a week for 75% of their salary.
In August 2016, Amazon announced plans for a pilot program in which some part-time employees would work 30 hours per week.
The company said it would allow about a dozen part-time workers to reduce their number of weekly hours to 30 at 75% of their salary, though they retained all of their benefits.
Participating employees’ main hours were 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with additional flex hours included.
Joe Rubin, a human resources expert who co-founded the recruiting site Crowded.com, previously told Business Insider that Amazon’s decision to offer employees more flexibility sends the message that the company values employees’ lives outside the workplace.
While Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the pilot program, the company advertised job openings for positions with 30-hour workweeks as recently as last month.
An online learning platform’s employees worked 32-hour weeks for three years, but the CEO implemented a 40-hour week after one-fifth of the workers were laid off.
Treehouse, an online learning platform that offers skill-based courses at a low cost, allowed employees to work 32-hour, four-day workweeks since its launch in 2011.
Ryan Carson, Treehouse’s CEO, also decided to eliminate management roles in 2013. Employees could choose their own projects and evaluate each other under this system.
But in 2015, Carson decided to enforce a traditional management structure, according to The Oregonian.
“We were naive,” the CEO said. “It was hopeful.”
According to The Oregonian, Carson could not reconcile laying off some employees while letting others work 32 hours a week.
Reusser Design, an Indiana-based company that designs websites and apps, enforces four-day workweeks but rotates employees to still help clients on Fridays.
Reusser Design switched to a four-day week in 2013.
Instead of working on Fridays, employees schedules went from 6:30 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Thursday. Company president Nate Reusser told Business Insider that some employees begin at 9 a.m. and work for 10 hours a day.
“When we eliminate distractions or tackle their source, we can be just as productive in four days as we can in five days,” the company wrote on its blog. “In fact, we find that we’re just a little more productive.”
The company rotates employees on Fridays to answer phones and help walk-in visitors, and accommodates client emergencies as well, according to the blog.
Utah was the first state to enforce four-day workweeks among state employees, but the program only lasted three years.
In 2008, Utah became the first state to require state employees to work four days a week.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s decision to mandate four 10-hour days was meant to increase efficiency, conserve energy, and help retain employees.
But a 2010 legislative audit showed that the state did not save money this way, and the employees went back to working five days a week the following year, CNN reported.
While the four-day workweek did not benefit the state as a whole, the city of Provo functioned on a four-day week for years before the governor’s decision. These days, the Provo mayor’s office and other departments are open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
John Curtis, the city’s mayor, said the system led to improvements in workers’ morale and seemed to bring in savings as well, according to Deseret News. Curtis added that four-day workweeks could be better suited for local governments than state governments.
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