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In Washington, a state lawmaker wants to start a discussion about shifting to a 32-hour workweek.
Five-day workweeks have been the norm for most employees since the early 20th century, when car manufacturer Henry Ford popularized the schedule for his assembly line workers. But in the past few years, many have begun to question the necessity of the 40-hour work standard from Monday through Friday. Some studies have shown that productivity improves when workers reduce their hours, even prompting Finland’s new prime minister to suggest a 32-hour week.
A bill introduced this month in Washington state aims to follow that lead. Sponsored by state Sen. Joe Nguyen, a Democrat from Seattle, the legislation would make a 32-hour workweek the norm, and require employers to pay time-and-a-half for any hours worked over that threshold. The bill makes exceptions for seasonal employees, such as those at fairs, along with motion picture projectionists, truck and bus drivers, and farm workers, among others.
Nguyen did not respond to a request for comment but told Seattle-area station KING 5 that he introduced the bill to acknowledge shifting work dynamics and research that has shown a shorter workweek could improve employee morale and productivity.
"This is a good thing to help workers either reduce mental anguish, stress or give them opportunities to be more free with their time as well and still be just as productive if not more productive," Nguyen said.
Nguyen, who is also a manager for Microsoft, may have gotten the idea from a source close to home. Microsoft recently tested a four-day workweek in Japan by giving all their workers Fridays off. “Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot,” Microsoft Japan CEO Takuya Hirano said in a statement. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time.”
The company reportedly saw a 40% increase in productivity during the pilot—and they aren’t the only ones with results.
In 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a trust management company in New Zealand, implemented a four-day workweek pilot so successful that they made the policy permanent. In the U.S., a wide array of companies, from restaurant chain ShakeShack to software management company Basecamp have all experimented with positive results.
Philadelphia-based software company Wildbit has had a four-day workweek for more than two years after a pilot of the schedule proved successful. "We continued to extend it each quarter and a year later when we reflected, we realized we had gotten more done that year than we had in a long time," Natalie Nagele, the company's CEO, told CNN. "By Monday morning, everyone is kind of running to work.”
However, many employers are concerned about the repercussions of shortened weeks. Some that have experimented with four-day workweeks have asked workers to distribute their regular 40 hours over a shorter time frame. Utah experimented with such a policy in 2008 when they had state employees work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days, but found that the data didn’t support continuing the practice.
But, still, public support for a 32-hour, four-day week is growing. The AFL-CIO and other major unions have argued that technology has made workers so productive that a 40-hour, five-day workweek is no longer necessary, while one 2018 poll found that 40% of U.S. employees surveyed said they would prefer a 32-hour work week. That number may rise as millennials and Gen-Zers continue to shift workplace cultures towards more flexible arrangements with a greater emphasis on work-life balance.
The dream of a state-mandated, four-day workweek may not be on the horizon anytime soon in Washington or elsewhere, though, Nguyen acknowledged. He told KING 5 that the bill is really intended to bring awareness to the issue and get public feedback. “The point of this bill is really to start that conversation,” Nguyen said.
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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