Just the other day, I read that the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, has begun advocating for something virtually unheard of: a four-day work week and a six-hour work day.
The idea has stemmed out of a controversial question: Is the customary 9-5, five days a week, too much for modern employees in an age of such digital efficiency? With modern technology, like means of communication, formatting platforms, and high-tech office abilities, workers are able to get more done in less time. Something as simple as calculating financial reports, may have taken days to tackle in the pre-technologic era; however, today, using spreadsheets and computed algorithms, these tasks can be completed in hours, if not minutes. Apps even connect co-workers and bosses, allow memos to be sent and meeting to be held with ease.
The reality is the average office worker is more unproductive than ever. Employees can easily surf the web, utilize social media platforms, or even play online games in the time they are paid to be doing regular work. A study by Ohio University found that workers spend less than three hours productively in an eight-hour workday, with an hour looking at news, 45 minutes on social media, and even 25 minutes looking for new jobs. A shorter workweek would mean being more time being efficient and on task, and less causing physical harm and mental strain.
The health benefits of a shorter workweek are undeniable. The employees of the United States work the longest hours of any other nation, with 40 percent of Americans working over 50 hour weeks. This is a new development. Since the 1970s, we have added an entire month more work per year to our schedules.
And this rise has come with the correlation of increasing rates of depression, mental illness, sleep issues, obesity, heart disease, and weakened immune systems. By working longer, we are causing damage that could likely hinder our ability to work well.
All of the issues have even larger repercussions. Mental health issues cost the United States Economy almost $100 billion annually, and causes the lost earnings of $193 billion per year for American workers.
Depression can account for nearly 400 million lost days of work annually. Beyond the economic cost, even cutting one hour off of the workday would drastically lower carbon emissions from office buildings and manual industries.
With a shorter work week, people would be able to do more of the memorable things they love, like spending time with family, being out in nature, delving into new hobbies, and enjoying their culture. The truth is, our busy modern world has come at the expense our relationships. American families on average spend less than 45 minutes all together each week. The hard work, no play mentality of the American dream has rendered us without the connection of our past.
The likelihood of any change happening to our busy schedules is unlikely, but changes like taking 15 minute breaks from screens, spending time outside during breaks, and being aware of what you do with your time can make a difference in a worker’s demeanor. Companies have begun using devices to monitor how time is spent during the day, allowing for naptime, and sponsoring office wide activity, like yoga.
Finland may be a bit progressive for what the American Worker is used to, but changes like these are not only improving the time spent on task at work, but the time spent focused on family and loved ones at home.