Are Americans Working Too Much?

Written by Jennifer Clark
Posted October 16, 2019

Working five days a week and sometimes more than 40 hours has a huge impact on the lives of Americans. According to data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, last year, Americans worked around 1,786 hours on average. That's over 200 hours more than workers in the U.K. and France. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an average workweek for full-time workers was 42.5 hours in 2018. Is America working too much?

In Europe, large trade unions in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the U.K. have backed the idea of a four-day workweek. Does too much work have a detrimental effect on our society? Well, you might think people who work too much would earn more money, which would mean more money flowing into the U.S. economy, but that’s not entirely true.

There are many people out there, who even with their full-time workweek, still don’t have the income to live the lives they want. When you add in inflation, prices for our daily necessities have gone up. 

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For example, something that cost $20 in 1999 now costs nearly $31. And incomes aren’t increasing to match that inflation, making it harder for people to live comfortably. What kind of life are you really living if you're working 40+ hours a week and still can’t afford the things you enjoy? You’re overworking yourself just to meet life’s basic needs.

Would a Four-Day Work Week Solve Everything?

Not necessarily, but it is a start. Last year, the New York Times reported that a firm in New Zealand started a four-day workweek experiment and found that its employees returned to the office more energized and had a stronger work-life balance. It’s not all about the money (though it kind of is); it’s very important that people keep their stress levels low and aren’t overworked.

Adam Grant, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said this at the World Economic Forum in Davos:

I think we have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively, they end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organizations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care about their lives outside of work. 

In theory, cutting the number of work hours in a week would be another way to curb economic inequality by reallocating time instead of money. A four-day workweek could be so beneficial to Americans and the economy it was recently discussed with 2020 presidential candidates. 

A Powerful Ally in the 2020 Presidential Election?

During a forum with the United Food & Commercial Workers in Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders was asked if he would be open to cutting the hours of work in a week from 40 to 32 while still preserving the same rate of pay. Sanders replied, "Shortening the workweek is certainly one idea that we have got to look at."

Sanders is the only one to publicly endorse this idea. If he begins to raise the issue on the campaign trail, it could help raise awareness and potentially put the issue at the forefront of presidential debates.

However, the plan has critics who say cutting work hours would decrease worker pay and increase stress levels if companies maintain current workloads. Essentially, workers will have to complete the same tasks in a shorter period of time. Maybe if companies set more realistic goals, they wouldn't overwork their employees. 

The problem here is, to some companies, people are dispensable. It has been the mentality of big corporations and many businesses for a while now. If you can’t fulfill the requirements of the position, then they can hire someone else who will work more hours because they need the money to get by.

I don’t think all our problems will be solved by a four-day workweek, but it could lead to a better society with less stress. Perhaps New Zealand is onto something with its four-day workweek experiment. Loyal, more creative workers is definitely something America could use.

Until next time, 

Jennifer Clark
Pro Trader Today
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