Is a three-day workweek feasible?

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By Shelley Spillman

Carlos Sims, the second richest man in the world, recently advocated for a global three-day workweek at a conference in Paraguay. Though the concept of a shorter workweek isn’t new, Sims’ comments have opened up an ongoing debate of Americans being overworked.

Under Sims’ proposal, employees would work 11-hour shifts, making the work total 33 hours.

“Four days off would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied,” Sims was quoted in The Washington Post.

I can’t argue there. Sure, there are several benefits to a three-day workweek. For one, a workweek ratio of three days work to four days off is much more fair than our current structure of five days working to two days off. There are several claims that this would also increase workplace productivity.

On the other hand, people complain that losing seven hours a week of pay would be a hit to the average American’s wallet. After all, if workers sought out other employment to reach at least 40 hours a week, that would defeat the purpose of a shortened workweek.

Though I’m not sure that a three-day workweek is completely feasible, I do agree some workplace reforms are needed because Americans are extremely overworked.

According to a 2010 study by the Center for American Progress, 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers reported work-family conflicts.

The study argues that the American work culture is hostile to families, citing that the average middle income family puts in an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than in 1979.

The study makes an argument that today’s workforce is  “imperfectly designed for the workforce of 1960,” where the majority of wives were stay-at-home moms, enabling the breadwinner male to work anytime and anywhere his employer needed him to work. The problem is that 70 percent of American children now live in households where all adults are employed, and the 1960s work model no longer works.

Try reading the article “14 signs that Americans are ridiculously overworked” on businessinsider.com and not believe that America’s work structure is totally off kilter.

Here are a few of the points that stuck out to me in the article:

•39 percent of people more than a 40 hour work week.

•A study from Mother Jones found that many people work beyond the normal workday checking their work email after hours and on the weekends. Twenty-two percent of employees said they were expected to respond to work email when they’re not at work. Fifty percent of employees check their work email on sick days, and 34 percent check their work email while they are on vacation.

•The U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t legally require workers to take time off. France and England require workers to take 30 days of vacation.

•Since the recession, 86 percent of executives say their company expects more of their employees, and 59 percent of employees feel more pressure.

My question is why is there so little action in workplace reform? Though the topic has garnered a great deal of discussion, the U.S. minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009. Keep in mind that even the Family and Medical Leave Act has only been around since 1993.

Americans being so overworked and overstressed has serious health consequences. Is it any wonder why Americans suffer from disorders linked to stress such as heart disease, gastric problems and depression?

Perhaps the most startling fact I discovered in my research was from Juliet Schor, an economist, sociologist and author of the nationwide bestseller “The Overworked American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need,” who estimated that if work trends continue, Americans will be spending as much time at their jobs in 2100 as the did back in 1920, when regulations initially were put into place to protect workers.

Visions of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire dance in my head. If that fact doesn’t frighten you, I don’t know what will. For our country to hold on to all the progress it’s made since the 1920s, workplace reform can’t go ignored for much longer.