The fight for a 40-hour work week goes all the way back to the post-Civil War era in America, but it wasn’t until 1940 that Congress passed an amended Fair Labor Standards Act that set 40 hours as the weekly limit for U.S. employees.
Despite the 40-hour “standard,” many Americans put in far more hours at work in the course of a week. A survey last year by EY shows that 58% of managers in the U.S. reported working more than 40 hours per week, while globally 40% of survey respondents indicated their work hours have increased in the past five years.
However, according to an interesting article in a website published by Voice of America (VoA), the Millennial generation — with the help of technology that makes them more efficient and productive — may be poised to shatter that (somewhat illusory) 40-hour work week standard.
It’s been well-established that Millennials value flexibility on the job. They want to work where and when they want, and prefer to use the technologies of their choice to do their work. Enlightened employers realize that letting Millennials choose their own technologies for work actually increases productivity and staff loyalty.
But Millennials want more, according to a professor at Florida International College of Law who tells VoA that Millennials place as high a value on free time and their own personal lives as they do work, an attitude that actually could benefit employers:
Professor Kerri Stone says studies show that reducing working hours can actually result in better workplace productivity. Stone says that after working so many hours per week you reach the point of what she calls, “diminishing returns.”
Diminishing returns is an economic term. It refers to a “point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.”
Anyone who has found themselves staring blankly at a computer screen on a Friday afternoon undoubtedly is familiar with the concept of diminishing returns.
Stone tells VoA’s Anna Mateo that Millennials strongly believe “people need a certain amount of down time and a certain amount of vacation” in order to be happy at home and at work.
That’s just common sense, but sometimes common sense takes a back seat to the profit imperative.
Millennials soon will be the majority of the work force, and as such they will wield enormous power in the workplace. If they are able to prove that, with the right productivity tools and enough flexibility, they are able to help enterprises grow and improve their businesses, organizations will be under increasing pressure to let go of the 40-hour work week standard.
Do you see your workplace embracing a new, shorter work week in the near future?