The 40 Hour Work Week Disrupts the Natural Work Flow

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“I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa, but not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.” These are the words of Lise-Lotte Pettersson, an assistant nurse and participant in a controlled trial of shorter work hours in Sweden. The results will be published in 2016, but so far results indicate nurses are less fatigued and more efficient (Crouch, 2015).

How many hours do you work? Is it too few, too many, or just right?

A 2014 Gallup survey of 1,200 American adults discovered that the average full time US employee works 47 hours per week and 18% work 60 hours or more (Green, 2015).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work and productivity.

Take the word occupation. To many people that means their career; what they do for a living.

According to occupational science, the word “occupation” more broadly represents any activity that is personally meaningful.

It is interesting that this word “occupation” has taken on so many roles.

When we go to work, we contribute to society. One-to-one or with a broader audience, in one way or another, our job exists to make someone else’s life run a little bit smoother.

It’s a beautiful thing.

And, for me, the idea of a 40-hour work week is absurd. It’s a given that there’s always more work to do when I get home or on the weekends. I feel squeezed for time, rushed, unable to process the moments of my day as completely as I’d like to.

Swedish Occupational scientists, Dennis Persson and Lena-Karin Erlandsson shed some fascinating insight into how Western society got here.

To start, they present thoughts of Skolimowski, a Polish professor of eco-philosophy. He explains that Aristolte separated what Plato had previously treated as unified: the issues of the good, the truthful, and the beautiful.

Which one did Western society focus on?

The truthful, which gave rise to science and reductionism. We lost our sense of the “wholeness of the universe, of the personal, and of the priceless values of goodness, beauty and spirituality” (Persson & Erlandson,2002, p.95). Intellectual understanding or knowledge for the sake of knowledge was no longer enough. Our society strived to understand in order to control. We perceived the world as a machine and it became “natural” to try to control and rule it. For instance, the division of our day is founded in mechanistic thinking, as time too became something to be controlled. Our 24 hour day was neatly divided into:

8 hours of sleep

8 hours of work

8 hours of free time

This was introduced at the beginning of industrialization and after the First World War in U.S. and Europe. Is it beginning to change?

In Forbes magazine’s recently published article entitled “Why the 40-Hour Workweek Is Dying,” the authors claim that the 40 hour work week disrupts the natural work flow and can decrease individual and company-wide productivity via burnout, decreased creativity, and ignoring individual differences in energy levels. Here’s some ways companies (particularly Startups) are shaking up the traditional work week: Some companies are trying 10 hour days 4x/week or 12 hour days 3x/week. Some have incorporated flex time, where employees schedule their own hours and more and more companies are allowing employees to work from home. Employers are also allowing employees to vote and decide their own hours on a rotating basis.

I think we still have a long way to go. But from an occupational perspective, I’m happy to see the discourse change. Humans-body, mind, and spirit-are this world’s greatest asset. We are not machines and we each function at our highest potential with different proportions of work, rest, leisure, and play. In this world of opportunity I urge all of us to find meaningful occupations that suit our needs and to advocate for why this so very important-so very human.

Sources:
Crouch, D. (2015, September 17). Efficiency up, turnover down: Sweden experiments with six-hour working day. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/17/efficiency-up-turnover-down-sweden-experiments-with-six-hour-working-day

DeMers, J. (2015, May 15). Why The 40-Hour Workweek Is Dying. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2015/05/15/why-the-40-hour-workweek-is-dying/

Green, H. (2015, June 30). It’s Time for the 30-hour Week. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harlan-green/its-time-for-the-30-hour_b_7696674.html

Persson, D. & Erlandson, L-K. (2002) Time to Reevaluate the Machine Society: Post-industrial Ethics from an Occupational Perspective. Journal of Occupational Science, 9, (2): 93-99.

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