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exploring the 30-hour work week -- is it a social justice issue?

By: Ram Athavale, NCCDA Newsletter Intern


As the pandemic continues to intensely affect our lives, it is becoming clear that many people seem to be enjoying the ability to control their work life better by working from home. It is very possible that working from

home most or even all the time will become the “norm” post-pandemic. It is notable that last October, Amazon
extended work-from-home opportunities for employees that can do so until at least June 2021 (1).

This article explores another issue that may be even more useful for career counselors to promote to help
prevent burnout, improve quality of life, potentially reduce overall unemployment, and allow communities to
become more cohesive. It is bringing back the 30-hour work week.

Yes, bringing back the 30-hour work week. It may be surprising to learn that some companies actually had
employees work 30 hour per week during the Great Depression and World War II, and that the United States
came very close to mandating a 30-hour full-time workweek in the 1930’s(2).In the article, participants at
Kellogg’s reported feeling more energetic after work, volunteering more in their community, and keeping tabs
on the neighborhood. This resulted in decreased crime.

Moving to 30-hour work weeks can also be a win for organizations. They have been shown to increase productivity for organizations such as Kellogg’s to the point where Kellogg’s increased the workers’ pay from 7 hours per day to 8 hours even though the workers worked 6 hours per day (2).

The concept of working fewer hours is not unheard of today. In 2016, a small group of employees at Amazon shifted to a 30-hour workweek with 75% pay and full benefits (3). The article pointed out a Harvard Business Review study that experts in several fields indicate that productivity peaks for them at 5 to 6 hours per day, and any further hours can be a waste of time for both employees and employers. According to a study done in the UK, the amount of work that a person needs to be fulfilled is even less, as little as eight per week (4).

There is in fact a company that has had a 5-hour-day off and on over the last 6 years. The company found that due to increasing productivity, they were even able to increase employee salaries. It helps that the company sells exercise equipment and is trying to encourage their employees to participate in such activities (5).

Unfortunately, there is no publicly available documentation describing any follow-up on the 30-hour work week at Amazon, but if the experience of Kellogg’s is any indication, organizations will help their workers as well as themselves by moving their employees in this direction. For all of the benefits that employees can gain from working 30 hours per week instead of 40, promoting a shorter workweek could be considered a Social Justice issue for career counselors.

What can we do as career counselors to encourage shorter work weeks by employers? I certainly do not know the answers to this, but any efforts by us to normalize the idea of shorter workdays and workweeks to our students and to organizations that work with us might be a place to start.

1. Amazon Declares Work From Home For All Eligible Employees Till June, 2021: But Why?, https://trak.in/tags/business/2020/10/21/amazon-declares-work-from-home-for-all-eligible-employees-tilljune-2021-but-why/

2. When America Came 'This Close' to Establishing a 30-Hour Workweek, https://www.alternet.org/2013/04/when-america-came-close-establishing-30-hour-workweek/ 

3. Here's Why Employers Should Adopt Amazon's 30-Hour Workweek, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2016/09/26/heres-why-employers-should-adopt-amazons-30- hour-workweek/?sh=19c7cb185558

4. The “Effective Dose” of Work You Need to Feel Fulfilled Is Surprisingly Low, https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-effective-dose-of-work-you-need-to-feel-fulfilled-is-surprisingly-low? utm_source=pocket-newtab

5. Our company started 5-hour workdays in 2015. Here’s why we’re still doing it, https://www.fastcompany.com/90615133/our-company-started-5-hour-workdays-in-2015-heres-why-werestill-doing-it 

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