The 35-hour Work Week

How much of a difference would it make for you if your workweek was cut to 35 hours? Jared Keller writes in Pacific Standard that the city of Gothenburg, Sweden has proposed to conduct a year-long experiment in which “the municipal council will separate employees into two different groups at the same pay rate, with a test group working six-hour days and a control group working the traditional eight.” According to the city’s deputy mayor, the hope is that workers will feel mentally and physically better and take fewer sick days, while becoming more efficient.

Keller points out that another country that tried our a 35-hour work week—France—didn’t succeed in lowering unemployment or improve the mental well-being of its workers.

One reason for this could be our collective rat race mentality:

The impulse to produce, to succeed, and to advance can outweigh any incentive provided by a limit on work, legal or not (especially in countries like, say, the United States, where “I’m working late” is seen as a sign of occupational devotion and hard work). In today’s competitive economy that often means being reachable—and responsible—at least over email, well after the close of business. Many workers in the technology, media, and advertising sectors are on call 24 hours a day.

Even so, a shorter workweek is possible for those who don’t exactly spend all of their time at work doing work. How much of your workday is composed of distractions—i.e. reading blogs and news sites or chatting with coworkers? In his book about young Wall Street workers, Kevin Roose wrote that young bankers spent a notoriously high amount of hours at work, but that some of those hours were spent bored or reading Dealbreaker, while waiting to be given the kind of work that would keep them at their desks all night.

Photo: Sunshine City

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