Will a 3-Day Work Week Work?

Last week, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim used his speech at a conference in Paraguay to advocate for the three-day work week. While workers would clock 11-hour days to keep productivity at acceptable levels, Mr. Slim envisions a workforce that will be able to work longer into their lives while enjoying more work-life balance. He also sees peripheral economic benefits in the creation of new leisure and entertainment activities.

It is unlikely that a three-day work week will catch on any time soon. However, four-day work weeks are certainly within our grasp. In fact, some companies have already adopted the shorter work week in order to provide more balance to their workers’ lives. The payoff for employers is a workforce that is more productive, more loyal and more creative.

Companies achieve the four-day work week in a couple of different ways. Some up workers’ hours to 10-hour days in order to maintain the 40-hour standard. However, a growing number of companies are deciding that the 40-hour work week is antiquated and no longer appropriate in an economy driven by information and services, as opposed to manufacturing and agriculture.

Employers, such as Treehouse, an online technology education company, simply dropped a day while maintaining typical eight-hour days. Company founder and CEO Ryan Carson noted in an interview with ThinkProgress that he believes the shorter work week improves the quality of work produced by his employees and reasons that, “Thirty-two hours of higher quality work is better than 40 hours of lower quality work.”

This is on par with the average work week in many advanced economies. Workers in the Netherlands average 29-hour work weeks. In Norway and Denmark, the average work week is 33 hours.

Technology has made it possible to do more work in less time, but instead of cutting work hours to reflect this new reality, most employers continue to insist that workers maintain a 40-hour work week. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more work is getting done in that extra time. Most employees are probably surfing the Internet, clearing the spam from their email inbox, posting to Facebook or running errands.

According to a 2013 study by the Captivate Network, there has been a 63 percent increase in online shopping and a 31 percent increase in running errands since 2011. Yet, despite these growing distractions, worker productivity continues to climb. That is because our access to high-speed and portable technology in the form of laptops, tablets and smartphones, now makes it possible to work from anywhere at any time. So, as easy as it now is to browse “the aisles” at Amazon.com during work hours, it is just as easy to reply to a work email outside of business hours.

It may indeed be time to reconsider our adherence to the 9-to-5 workday and 40-hour work week. Many people are already working outside of those parameters. Some employers may try the four-day work week; some, the three-day week. Others may abandon the notion of workweeks entirely and simply give workers goals to reach by certain dates and let them figure out how to achieve those goals. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the question of how long people should work in a given week. Companies should be willing to try different formulas though because it could ultimately result in a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.