Cantor: Is a 32-hour work week closer than you think?

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Hard to believe that three years have gone by since the government shut down the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many Americans struggling to financially recover. Others who have adapted to remote work are contemplating how and when they will return to the office. For employers, they are struggling to regain a sense of worker and office normalcy, a goal which still seems far in the distance.

One example of a tone-deaf employer is Amazon, whose CEO recently issued a mandate that all employees must be back at the office at least three days per week beginning May 1. That didn’t go well with 16,000 Amazon employees who spammed an internal company website expressing their displeasure with the mandate. An internal petition pushing back on the return to office mandate has been signed by 5,000 employees.

There has been growing discord between employers and employees in the very high tech companies that went on a hiring spree during the pandemic to meet the demand for online purchasing and remote working. Meeting this demand were company’s such as Zoom, whose technology helped businesses continue to operate resulted in excess employees and negative productivity. The result has been thousands of layoffs in those very companies that did the hiring such as Amazon, Zoom, Meta, PayPal, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel, with layoffs spreading to FedEx, Rivian, and Draft Kings. However, the shrinking of the workforce didn’t stop there.

With the fear of continuing inflation, as the Federal Reserve most surely will increase interest rates at its March meeting later this month, some employers have been rescinding entry-level and mid-career job offers made to prospective employees. This comes after many prospective employees already relocated or restructured their lives to take the jobs offered.

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In as recission actions reflect poorly on employers, the fact that they are occurring indicates the challenges the post pandemic economy and workplace are facing. Workers have taken notice.

In a trial study in England between June and December 2022, 2,900 workers in 61 financial, non-profits and marketing companies were offered the opportunity to work four days a week and earn the same wage as if they worked a five-day work week. The catch was that the productivity would have to remain the same for the four days as would have been for five days, with the hours worked per day remaining the same. Employees agreed. Who wouldn’t.

Most employers reported that revenues remained the same, with 23 companies reporting minimal revenue growth. Considering that the survey reported the same output was possible working fewer hours, than employers might well have overstaffed the workforce in the first place. More workforce efficiency generates economic growth.

However, for employees the shorter work week was a winner. Of the workers, 60% found it easier to balance work and family responsibilities, 73% were increasingly more satisfied with their lives, 71% were less burned out, 39% less stressed and 48% more satisfied with their jobs.

Not possible in America you say? The state of Maryland is considering legislation that would use taxpayer dollars to subsidize employers with tax credits to encourage a 32-hour work week. Too farfetched? There was not always a 40-hour work week. Ford Motor company changed that in 1926. One constant is that things always can change.

 

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Martin Cantor is director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy and a former Suffolk County economic development commissioner. He can be reached at [email protected].



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