Since Memorial Day, I’ve been thinking about the work week.  I read an article on Reddit the other day that  brought up similar ideas.

Typical weeks of work in the American culture are roughly 40 hours per week spread over 5 days.  In the business scene, the number of hours skews higher, typically more like 50-60 hours with the number of days being dependent on the role.  We tend to place a very high sentimental value on working hard and hours worked.

Unfortunately, for many positions at least, the amount of hours worked by a person doesn’t necessarily correlate to their output.   Ultimately you can judge the value of what someone does by many indicators, but the number of hours won’t necessarily tell you how well they’re doing.   Manufacturing centric roles tend to have a good correlation, because you are often physically doing the job.  Knowledge work is a bit different in that your ultimate output is often digital, which eventually leads to organizational change.  For instance, a finance person may well do multiple scenarios and have to create P&L’s for each scenario.  The time it takes to build out 5 models versus 15 models is a differential of 3x, but the ultimate output for the organization is the same as only one decision is made.

The amount that the U.S. is high compared with other countries.   Our number of holidays and vacation isn’t extremely high either.  But part of our differential as a country is the willingness to get to work and a “can do” attitude.  Some people are probably cynical of that statement, but the older I get and more places I visit, the more I see how the US has positivity in those traits.

However, I do believe that we can overdo it.  Productivity and hours worked, as stated, aren’t directly correlated.  Having time off to think and simply do the things you want to do with your life makes for a better working environment.  Taking the time to stay in shape and reflect mean you are physically and mentally healthy.

So how do we do it?  I think three day weekends might be a great option for many vocations.  Working four ten hour days and taking three days for weekends would be a great fit for many people.  This probably isn’t an option for me as I work more than that and being present on all five of the common working days is likely needed.  However, there are so many vocations where working four out of five days would be a great option.  On Memorial Day I kept saying, “Every weekend should be three days.”  It just provides more time for enjoyment and getting things done.

In addition, it makes me wonder if there would be a stimulus for the economy by expanding weekends.  I know I spend a lot more on weekends than weekdays.  There is more time to go shop for the things you need.  Projects such as landscaping or home improvement are done during this time as well, which is when supplies are purchased.  I’m not positive this would create a huge boon for the economy, but I know it wouldn’t hurt if the wages of hourly workers weren’t lowered.

One less day worked also means a 20% decrease in commuting emissions.  Obviously people can and will still use vehicles during this time, but it’s a net win for the environment.  I don’t know how long we’ll go with companies having folks commute anyway, at some point we are going to see big shifts to telecommuting.

The bottom line on this issue for me is that there are huge benefits for people working either fewer hours, or hours rearranged in a way that gives them bigger blocks of time off.  Mental and physical health are bound to improve, economic potential is there and from a sustainability standpoint it’s a net positive.  Being able to actually get this kind of schedule is really dependent on your employer, but these things tend to reflect general trends.  As more employers allow people to arrange their schedule as such, the more common it will be.  Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.  My current role certainly doesn’t fit this, but in the long term I’d hope my work can be scheduled in such a manner.