February 18, 2019

Work Less, Do More

Anybody else remember May Day baskets? You made a little basket, put dandelions or candy in it, left it at the door of the girl next door’s house, rang the doorbell and ran away. If she heard, she was obligated to chase you and give you a kiss if she caught you. (That never happened.)

Hey c’mon… winters were long in Minnesota…

On May Day 1926, Henry Ford gave his factory floor workers the ultimate May Day basket: the 40-hour work week, all the way down from 60 hours. Ford’s office workers got their reduced workweek three months later.

Ford was progressive, and then some. Twelve years earlier, he’d given them another surprise: a raise from $2.34 per day all the way up to $5.00.[1] You had to love the man, and they did. Little wonder that productivity skyrocketed. Ford’s employees were working lees, doing more, and now they could also afford to buy his cars — although only with prior approval from Ford’s Sociological Dept, which looked after workers’ personal, home, family, and financial health.

We’ve been living with Ford’s 40-hour work week for 93 years now. Some people think maybe it’s time for an upgrade — they suggest a four-day work week.

This position is backed up by Academic research. Multiple studies support the view that a shorter working week would make people happier and more productive, while OECD figures show that countries with a culture of long working hours often score poorly for productivity and GDP per hour worked.

Meanwhile, one company in New Zealand that trialed a four-day working week last year confirmed it would adopt the measure on a permanent basis.[2]

Academics who studied the trial reported lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction and an improved sense of work-life balance. Critically, they also say workers were 20% more productive.

Three-day weekend, anyone?

From this article about a presentation on the four-day work week at the recent World Economic Forum conclave in Davos, Switzerland.


Another WEF article indicates that research reveals an inverse relationship between hours worked (units of input) and productivity (units of output). The extra day off per week raises employee morale, improves health and wellbeing, and yes, raises productivity. And although some jobs really need to be staffed more days per week. that’s readily addressed through job-sharing.

It seems intuitive, doesn’t it, that happier, better rested workers will do more, and probably do it better, in less time? Not everyone is so easily convinced — here’s a sample of articles that do their journalistic best to present both upsides and downsides, while barely concealing an overall thumbs up: Wired, Huffington Post, Stuff.

From what I can tell from a review of those articles and several others like them, the dividing line between pro and con seems to be how comfortable corporate managers and politicos are with the word “progressive.” The New Zealand Guardian Trust Company is the one that took the four-day plunge, and these days New Zealand is floating on a progressive tide — see these articles: Business Insider, Business Insider, The Independent.:

Next time, we’ll start looking at some other common advice about how to improve the workplace, such as finding your true calling/vocation, getting a sense of meaning and purpose in your work, following your dreams, doing what you love, etc. Good advice? Bad advice? We’ll look into it.


[1] That was for the male workers; the females got the same raise two years later.

[2] These are the researchers who conducted the New Zealand pilot.

If you like Kevin Rhodes’s posts, you might enjoy his new Iconoclast.blog, which focuses on several themes that have appeared in this blog over the years, such as how belief creates culture and culture creates behavior, and why growth and change are difficult but doable. You can also follow Iconoclast.blog on Facebook.

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