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30-hour workweek: Production stays high, life gets better

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There is an old saying, “Sometimes you have to slow down to go fast.”

It seems counterintuitive to slow down to go faster but it can be seen in many examples.

During a recent NASCAR event, a contender for the championship was running low on fuel and on older tires. The driver was willing to slow down and give up several spots on the racetrack in order to finish the race.

He still had to finish at a certain spot, but his ability to slow when needed allowed him to stay in the championship hunt.

Building on the zero day concept of taking time off to rest and recharge, we can apply this to business in how we approach the workday.

The 40-hour workweek is partly rooted to when Henry Ford, in 1914, scaled back his 48-hour week to 40 because he believed that too many hours were bad for worker productivity. With the strengthening of labor unions during the later industrial revolution, adoption of our traditional workweek was mostly arbitrary, though based partially on the success of Ford.

Fast forward to today and we are beginning to see a rethinking of the 40-hour week. In Europe, this is increasingly the case, where 30-hour workweeks with six-hour workdays becoming more common.

The United States is slow to adopt this practice, but a few larger employers are beginning to look at the prospect of shorter workweeks.

Amazon recently launched a program where technical teams work 30-hour weeks. They receive full benefits, but only 75 percent of a 40-hour worker's pay.

The goal is to promote a healthier work-life balance and promote employees to foster their own interests and skills outside of work, which in turn can benefit the company through increased productivity and innovation.

Another example is Tower Paddle Boards, which started a five-hour workday. CEO Stephan Aarstol allows employees to leave by 1 p.m. as long as they accomplish job requirements and are highly productive.

Aarstol's theory is that a lot of time is spent on things that do not improve the bottom line, so if you eliminate those elements, you could work less, accomplish the same goals and not add costs.

In addition, since it is an outdoor lifestyle company, what better way to promote that healthy lifestyle than giving employees more time to do outdoor things?

Since the switch to a shorter workweek, Tower Paddle has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest growing companies for two years running.

Can this work for every company?

Not necessarily, but it does open the conversation to how we view work and work-life balance.

We should work to live, not live to work. Improving people's happiness and contentment means they will be more productive, efficient and loyal employees.

Also, providing more free time may allow them to explore their natural talents that can bleed over to work, providing added benefits to the company.

Our assumptions on a traditional 40-hour workweek are based on a century-old industrial model. It has served the business community well, and may well continue as the norm.

We should challenge that, though, and see if that model serves as a continued benefit, or if slowing down to do more is the answer.

Some industries may succeed in this model, and others may not, but it is worth a look to attract and retain top talent that is mentally and physically healthy and able to contribute 100 percent to the organization.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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