Some things in life make sense. Some do not. A year consists of 365.25 days on average, because that’s how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun. That makes sense. Months are 30.4 days long on average, because that’s how long it takes the moon to orbit the Earth. That makes sense. A week has seven days because…..because someone thousands of years said so, and yet it is still the norm. That doesn’t make sense.
The history of the seven day week can be traced over four thousand years back to the ancient Babylon civilization. The Jews also believe that G-d created the world in seven days. I guess he/she/they was pretty efficient. So eventually the entire world adopts a seven day week, despite it being based on nothing scientific. The “weekend” developed in the late 1800’s due religious observance for Christians on Sunday, and for the Jews on Saturday (I’m skipping a few chapter’s here but get the point). Alas, we have the five day work week based on what makes very little sense.
Skipping ahead to the 21st century, the 5 day work week is still the norm for most businesses in the United States. But why? Why is working 40 hours over five days per week still “normal”? Surely there must be some evidence or data to suggest that this standard is optimal for productivity and mental health? Well, as it turns, out the exact opposite appears to be true. Before the pandemic, Iceland began to cut their work week and run a study on it’s effects. As it turned out not only did they find that workers were happier (duh), but that their productivity went up working less hours with the same pay. As of July, 86% of Iceland’s workforce has reduced to shorter hours.
For some reason our society believes this myth that the longer we work, the better our life will be, the more money we’ll make, and blah blah blah. We all get that 2 O’clock Friday feeling, when you’re not really being productive, and your just waiting the clock to tick down until you get to the precious “weekend” only for it to end in 48 hours, and go right back to wear you started: Monday. In most professions, 8 hours is a typical work day, some with an unpaid hour for lunch stuck it between, an hour long commute, and the remainder is your non-weekend life. (Some quick math because that’s my thing: There are 24 hours in a day, minus 8 hours for work, minus an hour for lunch, minus two hours for commuting, minus another hour for getting ready, minus 8 hours for sleeping (if you’re that lucky), leaves you with JUST 4 HOURS of awake time that’s not devoted to your job. Of course the Icelanders were happier and more productive with more time. The study showed reports from workers feeling happier because they now had more time to exercise, see friends, be with their family, and do more hobbies. This increase in morale allowed the to focus on their jobs more clearly, and thus be more productive.
Iceland is not the first country to adopt the shorter work week, and it surely won’t be the last. If there’s one positive thing the pandemic has showed us is that technology can be utilized to MAKE PEOPLE HAPPIER AND MORE PRODUCTIVE. It’s a bewilderment that we waited for a global pandemic to show us that having meetings on video are fine, working remotely is a possibility, and that most meetings can be sent in a DANG EMAIL!
Even our predecessors anticipated that increases in technology would lead to a shorter work week. According to the Atlantic, A 1965 Senate subcommittee predicted Americans would work 14-hour weeks by the year 2000!!!! In 1928, John Maynard Keynes wrote that technological advancement would bring the workweek down to 15 hours within 100 years. Iceland only cut there work week by a few hours and saw a rise in productivity, imagine if we could put our 7 billion brains together and utilize technology to cut the work week in half.
The evidence is there, it’s not even a debate. Thanks to the pandemic, companies are understanding the availability of a remote or at least, hybrid work force. It won’t be long until we as a society, refuse to accept the notion of sitting in the office for 40 hours for the sake of nothing.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.