Last week Amazon announced a reduced work week plan where employees will only work 30 hours a week, in an effort to improve productivity, employee happiness, and recruitment. The plan follows a recent trend among some businesses to make working hours more flexible, or even reduce the amount of time spent in the office. The idea behind the trend is that reduced hours will not have a significant impact on productivity, as studies have shown that work performance decreases as the number of hours spent working increases. With Amazon’s announcement, the reduced working schedule is moving from small companies and startups to the mainstream.
Shorter working weeks (compared to the traditional 40 hours per week) are more common in some countries than others. Employees in many European countries have enjoyed shorter work weeks, notably in Germany and France, where employees work an average of 26.4 and 28.5 hours a week. In North America, work weeks are generally longer, such as in Canada where employees work 32.8 hours a week, and in the United States, where the work week averages 34.4 hours. Among OECD countries, Mexico has the highest average annual hours worked at 40.6 hours, followed by Costa Rica and South Korea.
Before Amazon’s announcement, others have experimented with shorter work weeks. In the Swedish city of Gothenburg, public sector employees switched to six hours days in 2014, and the change has been viewed as a success, with other Swedish towns looking to emulate the 30 hour week. In the Netherlands, four day work weeks have become the norm for most employees, with citizens generally reporting higher levels of happiness and employee morale.
For international businesses, shorter work weeks could pose several challenges. As discussed above, different regions around the world have different expectations for the number of hours worked. For a company doing business internationally, a reduction in hours could cause problems with scheduling and meeting times, especially if the business chooses to move to a four day week. Companies will also have to account for any lost productivity, either through more hires or technological advances, to keep pace with competitors.
Shorter work weeks are popular with employees, and have been shown to improve employee health and satisfaction, both of which indirectly benefit the employer. If Amazon’s experiment with shorter work weeks is successful, look for more companies to follow the trend, especially in countries with high average hours worked per week.