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  • Writer's pictureYvonne Root

Four-Day Work Week? Part 1

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

The Answer is 42

According to the comedic science fiction book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the number 42 is the answer to “the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.”

The Answer is 40

According to others (including the federal government), the answer is 40. At least, that is what the “Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938” said. It described how many hours an employee can work within a week without the necessity of overtime pay. Would it surprise you to know that act has been amended 16 times? Do you know that in 2021 there was a proposed amendment that would change the number from 40 to 32? Does it interest you that the bill’s status is that it has been introduced and referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor?

Why a 40-Hour Workweek

Some credit Henry Ford for creating the 40-hour workweek. Uh, that would be like saying he single-handedly created the automobile or that he suddenly came up with the idea of an assembly line – neither of which is true. He was among many of his day who worked hard to find a way to manufacture horseless carriages. And while he did improve on the system of assembly lines, he did not invent them. So, while Mr. Ford was an early adaptor of the 40-hour workweek, he was not the reason for it.

President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors believed that one way to spread the amount of work available during the Great Depression would be to mandate a minimum wage and a maximum hourly workweek. Of course, there is much more to what happened to bring this bill into fruition, including that the original maximum work hours were set at 44, then later reduced to 40.

This rather lengthy (yet, I believe, informative and fascinating) article from the U.S. Department of Labor starts with “When he felt the time was ripe, President Roosevelt asked Secretary of Labor Perkins, ‘What happened to that nice unconstitutional bill you had tucked away?’” See what I mean? The story behind the 40-hour workweek is worth knowing.

The Answer is 32

According to Mark Takano, a member of the House of Representatives, his proposed amendment (H. R. 4728) to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would “reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week.” You can check out the version that was proposed here.

The Answer is Numberless

Well, okay, there is probably some number that could be associated with reducing the paid hours of your employees. And it could very well be 32 or 36 or some other (as yet) undetermined number. But there is more to the story.

Don’t Listen to the Smoke Blowers

Before going on, I must mention there are those touting the shortened workweek who are so determined to see it happen that they tell of benefits as if they’re proven when they’re only theory or wishful thinking at best – you know, blowing smoke.

For instance, here are some things I’ve seen them attribute to a shortened workweek:

  • Stopping climate change

  • Getting more women into the construction industry

  • Giving employees a better work/life balance

Could a Shortened Week or Reduced Hours Make Sense?

While I’m not in favor of the government determining wages or capping hours of work before overtime is required, I think a shortened workweek is feasible and perhaps desirable – even in the construction industry. And as usual, there is more to the story.

Next time there will be an in-depth look at how other companies are dealing with a shortened workweek, the steps necessary to make it happen, and some benefits that construction businesses and workers can achieve. You can go to part two here.

Reflection: Why would you consider moving your employees to a 4-day work week?

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