Americans used to chuckle at France adopting the thirty-five hour workweek. Then we sent the promise of a 4 Hour Workweek to the bestseller lists. Now, an emerging trend out of government is tricking into the world of businesses large and small – where Thursday would become the new Friday.
As Scientific American reports, Utah launched an American version of a shorter workweek, with 17,000 of its employees still working 40 hours, but only four days a week. The environmental impacts have been significantly reduced due to lower electricity needs, projecting a drop of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually from Friday building shutdowns. Utah also reported a measurable cost savings of $1.8 million as of the end of May. Then there are the obvious life benefits of a three day weekend, every week. A survey conducted by Brigham Young University on the Working 4 Utah schedule found 82 percent would prefer to stick with it.
Sure, the impact to the environment seems like a no-brainer, but will for profit companies actually embrace a shorter workweek in these less-than-booming economic times? It turns out that reducing hours may actually raise per-hour productivity. We may laugh at the French, but the country creates more GDP per work hour than the US ($37 verses $34, as of 2003). Roland Tricot, an entrepreneur in Paris whose company Mulot-Déclic provides computer training and assistance services, describes the difference in work ethic. “The 35 hour workweek changed the way I spent my day, and for the whole culture of French business. I had to focus. No time for personal emails, or personal social media chatter,” says Tricot.
Both of these initiatives began as government job-saving and cost-saving initiatives, and reaped the environmental benefits. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research suggests shorter workweeks become policy, with tax incentives to spur job growth. Yet the ethic of the American entrepreneur seems so counter to the idea of deliberately working less. Will the recent economic shift change the way we think about work, and adopt a three-day weekend?