Is a 40-Hour Workweek a Right Fit for Your Business?

As a manager, you might have never even considered that perhaps a 40-hour workweek was not the most efficient way to schedule for your business. For most, the Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workweek is considered the standard but that doesn't mean it's the right option for everyone.

While the 40-hour workweek might be the most traditional work schedule, it's important for managers and business owners to consider other schedules that may be more conducive to a productive, content, and efficient workforce.

Too Little

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Is the traditional 40-hour workweek too short for optimal performance?

One thing most can agree on is that the 40-hour workweek is not too short. Over time, countless manufacturers and researches have experimented with the effects of long hours on productivity, and the consensus seems to be that working more than 40 hours does not lead to increased production.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its findings on the effects of overtime and extended work shifts, and the results were very negative.

These studies found that

  • Overtime is associated with poor general health, more frequent illnesses, and higher injury rates.
  • After working for eight hours, workers become less alert, more fatigued, and have a lower cognitive function.
  • Employees who frequently work more than 40 hours tend to be less productive than those who work standard work schedules.
Not only do extended hours result in poor productivity, but they can also have serious negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of employees.

So, in most cases, it would appear that the 40-hour workweek is not more conducive to efficiency than alternative employee scheduling. Here's a breakdown of what to base the ultimate work week schedule decsion on.

Too Much

On the other hand, there is some evidence that shows employees may be healthier, more efficient, and more productive when they are able to work less than 40 hours per week.

For example, the United Kingdom cut the workweek to three days in 1974 to try to save on energy. While some might expect this to significantly impact productivity, production during this time only dropped by 6% implying employees were more productive when working fewer hours.

Similarly, France limited the workweek to 35 hours from 2000 to 2008, and employees reported that they were happier and more able to balance their work and personal lives as a result.

Of course, as the 40-hour workweek is the standard, there isn't definitive proof that shorter workweeks are better for both employees and employers.

However, for businesses that can accommodate shorter schedules, it may be worth considering cutting a few hours to boost productivity and employee happiness.

Just Right

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Whether or not the 40-hour workweek is the ideal schedule is certainly up for debate.

It's important to consider that the 40-hour workweek is a result of industrialism meaning, when it began, employees were typically working in factories with the goal being to manufacture as many products as possible before the end of the shift.

This makes sense for industries, such as manufacturing, in which production is directly correlated with time; however, many modern professions value knowledge and expertise just as much as time.

For example, say your business hires an in-house graphic designer to help with marketing. In this case, you might only care about the final deliverables, not how long it takes the designer to make the deliverables. As such, it might be worth considering shortening their workweek to improve efficiency.

Moreover, to maintain employee happiness and keep turnover low, it's important to consider your employees' work-life balance when creating schedules.

When the 40-hour workweek was established, it was far more common for households to only have one source of income, but dual-income households are becoming increasingly more common.

In 1960, only 25% of married households had dual incomes, whereas that number increased to 60% by 2012. When both partners are employed, it can be more difficult to take care of children, for household chores, complete errands, etc.

Factors like these have led many to believe the 40-hour workweek may, in fact, be too long. This does depend on what type of business you operate, though, as the traditional 40-hour schedule may be best-suited for manufacturing businesses.

Determining Your Perfect Balance

Just because the 40-hour workweek is standard doesn't mean that your business has to abide by it.

In order to ensure that your business is running at max efficiency and your employees are content, it's important to carefully evaluate your needs and schedule your employees accordingly.

There are a few things you can consider doing to make a positive impact on your company, such as-

  • Creating shorter workweeks- Some companies have adopted the four-day, 10-hour workweek to boost productivity without actually cutting hours.
  • Cutting Hours- Businesses that don't rely on manufacturing might consider shortening the week to 35 hours. After cutting hours, you can monitor productivity to determine whether or not it is having a positive impact on your business.
  • Employee's Choice- This won't be an option for every business, but certain businesses, such as those that can accommodate remote work, can consider letting employees determine their own schedules. This can increase efficiency by letting employees work during their most productive hours.
Remember that changes like these don't have to be permanent, and considering the potential benefits for both you and your employees, the risk-reward potential may well be worth the effort.

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