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Is US ready for 32-hour workweek?

Experts clash over productivity, flexibility, and economic implications in controversial workweek discussion.

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Sanders stressed the urgent need to tackle worker stress levels.
Instances where productivity dropped during comparable endeavors, like those seen in Japan.
The debate surrounding the implementation of a 32-hour workweek reflects a broader discussion.

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During a recent senate committee hearing on March 14, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the feasibility of a 32-hour workweek was thoroughly examined. Senator Sanders, leading the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), highlighted that the issue hasn’t been revisited at the federal level since 1940 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended, reducing the standard workweek from 44 to 40 hours.

Sanders emphasized the pressing need to address the stress levels experienced by workers in the country, stating that many individuals are exhausted both physically and mentally. He argued against the notion of maintaining a workweek definition established 84 years ago, pointing to examples like France’s 35-hour workweek and the consideration of further reduction to 32 hours, as well as Denmark’s and Norway’s adoption of a 37-hour workweek.

In anticipation of the hearing, Sanders introduced a companion bill to Rep. Mark Takano’s, D-Calif., Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act. This bill seeks to reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours by amending the FLSA. However, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., expressed concerns about the mandatory implementation of a 32-hour workweek, arguing that it could negatively impact productivity and potentially lead to economic repercussions such as job offshoring.

Juliet Schor, leading research on four-day workweek trials for 4 Day Week Global, presented evidence suggesting success among companies that experimented with shorter workweeks. She highlighted the diverse range of participating companies, including small businesses and various industries. Schor emphasized that these trials were characterized by unique approaches tailored to each company’s needs, with collaboration between managers and employees.

However, not all experts are convinced of the benefits of a shorter workweek. Liberty Vittert from Washington University in St. Louis questioned the research findings, citing examples where productivity declined during similar initiatives, such as in Japan. Roger King from the HR Policy Association raised concerns about the potential impact on employers, including operational hours and payroll costs.

Despite the differing perspectives, examples like Kickstarter, a software development company in Brooklyn, showcase successful transitions to a four-day workweek. Jon Leland, chief strategy officer, highlighted adjustments made at the team level to maintain productivity and meet deadlines within the shortened week.

Overall, the debate surrounding the implementation of a 32-hour workweek reflects a broader discussion on work-life balance, productivity, and economic implications in the modern workforce.

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