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Viewpoint - Bob Gershberg - September 2023


Is the Five Day Workweek Dead?by Bob Gershberg, CEO and Managing Partner, Wray Executive Search When I was a young lad in elementary school, they told us when we grew up, we wouldn’t have to work five days a week like our daddies. Three or four would be the norm. They lied! Those of us who went into the restaurant business found six day workweeks to be the standard.  During the Industrial Revolution, six day workweeks, 80 – 100 hours per week were commonplace in the manufacturing world. The labor movement was born and the ultimate passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 required overtime pay beyond 44 hours per week. The Act was amended in 1940 to create the 40 hour workweek, five eight-hour days and has remained U.S. law ever since. Fast forward 80 years, a life changing pandemic and now a push for a 32 hour workweek. Discussion of codifying a 4 day workweek has ensued. Americans were thought to be worshipers of work. In many cases we derived both self-worth and net worth from our work. Over the past couple of years, companies and governments around the world have become more open to the possibility that a four-day workweek could be better for businesses and the people who make them run. Before the pandemic, Microsoft Japan and Shake Shack tried the schedule out with some employees, with positive results. Unilever’s New Zealand offices recently completed a four-day experiment, the results of which could affect the schedules of the company’s 155,000 employees worldwide. They have expanded the study to Australia. The governments of Spain and Scotland are planning trials that would subsidize employers that give workers an additional day off, and politicians in Japan and New Zealand have spoken favorably of the idea of a shorter workweek.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an author and consultant who helps companies implement shorter workweeks says, “The idea that you can succeed as a company by working fewer hours sounds like you’re reading druidic runes or something, but we’ve had the productivity gains that make a four-day week possible. It’s just that they’re buried under the rubble of meetings that are too long and Slack threads that go on forever.” Many employers have decided to adopt a hybrid model of work, with employees splitting their weeks between in-office and remote work. Other companies have decided to go fully remote. Before the pandemic, in New York City fewer than 4% of jobs were fully remote, according to the Partnership for New York City. Today, nearly 11% of job listings are for fully remote positions. According to data from Kastle Systems, which tracks building access across the country, office attendance is at just 33 percent of its pre-pandemic average. That’s lower than in-person attendance in just about any other industry for which we have good data. For tens of millions of knowledge-economy workers, the office is never coming all the way back. The implications for work, cities, and the geography of labor will be captivating. About 39% of new hires have jobs with a hybrid work arrangement, while 18% of new jobs are fully remote, according to ZipRecruiter. Both shares are up relative to their pre-pandemic levels (28% and 12%, respectively). In 2019, about 5% of full-time work was done from home. The share ballooned to more than 60% in April and May 2020, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University who has researched remote work for two decades. That’s the equivalent to almost 40 years of pre-pandemic growth virtually overnight, his research shows. The share of remote work has steadily declined (to about 27% today) but is likely to stabilize around 25% — a fivefold increase relative to 2019, Bloom said. “That’s huge,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to find anything in economics that changes at such speed, that goes up by 500%.” In conclusion, the 40-hour workweek, a standard instituted in the early 20th century, may no longer be an optimal structure for today’s evolving workforce and economy. The shift from manufacturing to information and service-based work and technological advancements have dramatically changed the nature of work. Evidence suggests that longer work hours can negatively impact employee health and productivity, raising serious questions about the continued viability of the 40-hour workweek. As we navigate the complexities of the modern work environment, it may be time to reevaluate and reshape our traditional workweek models to better suit contemporary work realities and enhance overall productivity and employee well-being. All the best,

Bob Gershberg |CEO|Managing Partner| bob.gershberg@wraysearch.com (888) 875-9993 ext 102 Finding tomorrow’s leaders today!

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