The 40-hour, five-day workweek had a good run, beginning with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The act was a revolutionary step toward workers' rights and benefits, improving working conditions, standardizing eight-hour days and providing fair wages.
In the 84 years since the passing of the FLSA, American workers have sought other improvements like work-life balance, a shorter working week and remote work options. Since the coronavirus pandemic drastically changed the workplace over the past two years, will the future of work make the five-day workweek a thing of the past?
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The Pandemic Workweek Wasn't Standard
During the pandemic, the only thing standard about workplaces across every industry was that everything changed. What constituted a "typical" day before March 2020 would not be seen again in the two years that followed. But the similarities between some industries ended there.
Remote work, four-day workweeks and three-day weekends are attractive options thought to thwart burnout and promote better mental health and work-life balance.
On the other hand, office workers put in far less time at the office and were able to work remotely full-time or engage in a hybrid schedule. While remote work caused an initial disruption in work-life balance for some, two years into the pandemic, 61 percent of Pew Research respondents indicated they are continuing to work remotely by choice.
During the pandemic, workers illustrated the capacity to pivot and perform their work in new conditions. But it wasn't without consequences. Long hours, global uncertainty and stress due to the virus resulted in high levels of burnout across industries.
Consider also: Getting More Done in Fewer Hours on the Job
The Great Resignation
In what has been coined The Great Resignation, burnout, low pay, and the desire for more pay or flexibility are among the reasons more than 38 million workers left their jobs in the past year.
In a Pew Research study last year, workers without a four-year degree who quit their jobs cited lack of flexibility as the top reason for moving on. About half of all workers surveyed say they have more flexibility in when they work. In addition, many also have more advancement opportunities, better work-life balance and higher pay.
Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn's Chief Economist, refers to this as the Great Reshuffle, as most workers didn't simply resign but also transitioned to new jobs. As part of the Reshuffle, Kimbrough notes a "rewriting (of) the social contract between employees and their employers."
Millennials are the largest segment of America's workforce, and they are leading the way toward a more flexible workplace for all ages of workers. Instead of commuting daily, punching a clock five days a week and being stuck in an office space for eight hours, workers are looking for well-being and improvement in several facets of life. This requires greater flexibility at work - and fewer hours might help, too.
The pandemic has taught many employees this: if one employer doesn't offer what you are looking for, another will. McKinsey & Company notes that, for companies that play their cards right, this time might be called the Great Attraction.
Consider also: Remote Work and Your Career
The Future of Work
In 2020, The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that of the 23 percent of organizations implementing a four-day workweek and three-day weekend, 60 percent saw a positive impact on productivity and employee satisfaction.
Proponents of the shortened workweek cite the wasted hours in a typical five-day workweek, the modern workforce's changed values and work habits, and a better post-pandemic understanding of how burnout impacts workers' physical and mental health.
Countries like France, Iceland, New Zealand and the Netherlands are testing the waters of a fully-paid four-day workweek. A new nonprofit pilot initiative, 4 Day Week Global, was recently launched to open up a global conversation about the four-day workweek. In the U.K., 30 business leaders have signed up to take part.
In the U.S., New York Governor Kathy Hochul says, "it may never be a five-day workweek again." While Hochul isn't necessarily advocating for a three-day weekend, she acknowledges that the standard pre-COVID schedule is already a thing of the past.
With all of the changes happening in the world of work and the people in it, a shorter working week may be on the horizon for more companies in the future.
- Pew Research: How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has - and Hasn't - Changed the Way Americans Work
- The Harvard Gazette: How COVID Experiences Will Reshape the Workplace
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): How Did Employment Change During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
- Economist Education: Is This the End of the 40-hour Workweek?
- Gallup: How Millennials Want to Work and Live
- Skynova: Remote Is All I Know
- Pew Research: COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Reshape Work in America
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): Flexible Work Schedule Policy
- CAlChamber: Flexible Work Schedule Bill Gets Support from Chambers
- National Women's Law Center: The Schedules That Work Act: Giving Workers the Tools They Need to Succeed
- U.S. Department of Labor: Flexible Schedules
- BLS: Employment Situation Summary
- batchgeo: 370 Cities Mapped: Commute Times and Transportation Rates