Representative Mark Takano (D-Calif.) recently introduced a bill into the House which would reduce the standard work week to 32 hours.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live, Takano explained the rationale behind the bill.
“The main problem we're trying to solve with it is the work-life balance,” Takano said. “I think that is what resonates with so many people, who during this pandemic experienced neighbors, family members, loved ones, dying. And they also experienced being able to work from home.”
H.R. 4728: Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act would reduce most workers’ standard work week by setting 32 hours as the new maximum amount of hours worked before employees are allowed to earn overtime pay. Original co-sponsors include Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL).
The coronavirus pandemic brought to light the advantages of flexibility in the workplace as remote work greatly increased, he said.
Takano also discussed how the decades-long wage stagnation that has occurred in the United States has fueled worker discontent and economic division.
“The fact is, American workers are far more productive for whatever reason, but all of the benefits have gone to capital not to labor,” Takano said. “And look, we face the greatest challenge to unite our country, to unite ourselves in many ways, including economically. There's a big economic divide. We need to shore up our social safety net and we need to shore up a new way, a new norm, that leverages more of the economy toward our workers so that they can consume enough.”
Takano published an article in The Guardian last week detailing the philosophy behind the four-day work week bill and advocating for its passage.
“This, a four-day workweek, is going to open up a whole new range of possibilities,” he said. “And I predict it's going to be for a stronger, more vibrant economy, more productive economy.”
More rest, less stress?
The four-day workweek idea has not been implemented in any country on a nationwide scale as of yet, but smaller, incremental decreases in the workweek have occurred across the world with mixed results.
Rutgers University economist Jennifer Hunt studied a reduction in the standard hours worked in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s. She found that “increased overtime or reduced short time was little used to offset the reduction in standard hours … However … reductions in standard hours were accompanied by a relative rise in the hourly straight-time wage of 2-3% for each hour fall in standard hours.” Incremental reductions in the standard workweek raised wage rates and rarely resulted in increased overtime hours worked by employees.
Trials initiated by Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic national government in Iceland shortened the standard workweek from 40 to 36 or 35 hours for over 2,500 workers. Subsequent studies found improvements in worker well-being including less stress and greater free time while sustaining the same or greater levels of productivity. Now, over 80% of Icelandic workers have the option to move to a shorter workweek.
Domestically, the state of Utah enacted a 10-hour day, 4 days per week schedule for its state employees in 2008 to mixed results. Although initial studies found the policy resulted in "boosts to productivity and worker satisfaction," later assessments found little savings associated from the change, and Utah returned to the standard workweek in 2011.
Some experts have described calls for a four day workweek in the U.S. as unrealistic and impractical. Employees logging in shorter hours might reduce company productivity and place greater stress on an already tight labor market. Plus, significant barriers still exist to normalizing a shortened workweek in the United States, including work culture and productivity concerns, critics claim.
H.R. 4728 currently sits under consideration of the House of Representatives. No action has yet been taken on the bill since its introduction.
Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.
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