It’s Time To Rethink The 40-Hour Workweek

Joe Coad II
Aug 7, 2019 · 9 min read

Seriously, how much time do you waste at your job?

Photo by Kyle Hanson on Unsplash

If you work or have ever worked in corporate America, this has happened to you at some point. You’re in your office or cubicle doing work when you get an email from a co-worker. You read it, taking time away from your current task, notice that it isn’t urgent, and go back to your task.

15 seconds later that person who emailed you appears in your office. Sometimes I think they appear magically after they hit send, transporting themselves to your area along with the email. They open their mouth, only to say, “Hey, did you see the email I just sent you?”

A conversation about something not important ensues and before you know it, 10 minutes have passed because now you’re talking about Game of Thrones.

Time is the only element that we can control as human beings. Well, what we do with our time at least. I’ve worked half of my life. I’ve been a member of the workforce starting at 16 years old. I’m now 32.

My family has always been a blue-collar family. You work for X amount of years, retire, and live “happily ever after.” My dad worked split shifts for most of my life, waking up at 3:30 am, coming home at 9 am, before returning to work from 1 pm-6 pm. Even when I worked in the career I loved, I still didn’t understand working a certain amount of hours.

When you trade time for money at a 40 hour per week job, you’re also trading your time for a lesser value of your worth. One could argue that you’ll never be paid your worth. In the case of working for someone else, your employer is outsourcing a task they don’t know how to do (my first marketing job) or do not want to do anymore (my second marketing job). Most of the time, they’re not willing to pay more than a flat rate (salary) for you to complete this work every week.

You trade more of your time than your actual value as you have to commute to this business and possibly put in overtime without being paid for this extra time. I began thinking about this concept after I moved to Orlando for my first marketing job.

I spent 30 minutes in traffic each way, plus I was required to work 9–6 (1 hour was lunch). Let’s say I left my house at 8:30 to arrive at work at 9. Then I arrived home at 6:30. My employer really received 10 hours from me but since they don’t have to pay for your commute or your lunch, it’s reduced to 8 hours of work. 50 hours per week and you’re only paid for 40 of those hours

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Let’s be honest. Do our jobs even require us to work for 8 hours per day (or more) for 5 days per week? I work in what most would call a knowledge or creative field. I estimate that I could do my work tasks in approximately 30 hours. We hear employers complain about lost time every year due to employee fraternizing, tardiness, and sick leave. A shorter workday, and week, could eliminate a large amount of this cost.

This was the case for nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Swedish government conducted a trial for the nurses in 2017, allowing them to work six hours per day and still receive their full 8-hour pay.

At the time of the study, it showed that 68 nurses participating in the six-hour workday took half as much sick time as those in a control group working normal shifts. They were also 2.8 times less likely to take time off during a two week period.

These nurses were 20% happier than the control group, had more energy for their job, and even reported feeling healthier (Source: Replicon).

There is an extensive amount of research to back all of this up as well. For instance, the average worker only completes about 3 hours of productive work each day on the job.

Workers spend the rest of the workday on trivial tasks, such as checking social media (44 minutes), discussing non-work related subjects with co-workers (40 minutes), and even searching for new jobs while on the job (26 minutes) (Source: Inc.).

In 2018, German workers lobbied for a 28-hour workweek and they won. Their labor union, IG Metall, secured a deal to let the 2.3 million members of their union work less AND receive a pay raise. They won this right for 2 years. Once it’s finished, they’ll resume working 35-hours per week (Source: CNN).

Experiments with a shorter workday have found their way to national headlines, most notably with 2 Australian based companies. Steve Glaveski is the CEO and co-founder of Collective Campus, a corporate innovation and start-up accelerator based in Melbourne. He conducted a 2-week trial of a 6-hour workday for employees of his company.

“The shorter workday forced the team to prioritize effectively, limit interruptions, and operate at a much more deliberate level for the first few hours of the day. The team maintained, and in some cases increased, its quantity and quality of work, with people reporting an improved mental state…” -Steve Glaveski (Source: Harvard Business Review)

Early in 2019 Andrew Barnes, director of Complectus Limited, presented his experiment with the four day work week through a book and this TED Talk below. The results for his New Zealand based company were exceptional.

He discovered that productivity, engagement, job satisfaction, and work-life balance were all factors that improved; Barnes enjoyed the results so much that now his company only requires employees to work four days per week.

While there are other countries that work longer days than the United States, such as Japan (start at 8:30 am & end at 7 pm with 1 hour for lunch) and Romania (workdays usually last 10 hours per day) there are other countries that believe less is more.

Finland’s and Canada’s workdays average six hours, 45 minutes. As a worker in Finland, you would be entitled to three different breaks during your workday (Source: Insider)

If you’re a millennial, like me, your parents worked long and hard 40+ hour work weeks in order to make sure you could do something better with your life.

A generation later, we’re supposed to continue this same way of labor?

People believed that our generation was going to change the world. We’re supposed to be challenging these same structures and entities that took away the youth of our parents.

Instead, we fall into the same trap. “Debt is the American way”, is a joke told in my family. We get caught up in being materialistic and enter the workforce to buy things, not to achieve financial freedom or any sort of freedom for that matter.

I’m not here to cast judgment if you enjoy what you do for a living. I worked 40+ hours per week when I worked in radio but I loved my field.

However, why are 40 hours of work the standard? Why are we still basing our work off of an archaic work model that doesn’t fit with how our society looks in the 21st century?

People with an entrepreneurial spirit can’t sustain spending this much time away from their ideas. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly thinking and dreaming of ideas that are perfect for what is probably now your side hustle.

Take a look at your job duties. A long and honest look at what you do at your job on a daily basis. At my first radio job, I hosted my show, scheduled music, managed our online prize catalog, uploaded pre-produced shows for other stations, managed social media, and produced station liners. I was paid $22,000 per year.

Not only does your employer pay you under your worth, but they are paying you to do two or three jobs for those 40+ hours you’re giving them each week. Employers expect you to be great at everything you’re assigned.

When you’re a jack of all trades, you’re a master of none.


I started this essay out of anger, sadness, and depression. The current state of our workforce doesn’t allow for the freedom that America claims to offer. Working 40 hours and being paid for your time instead of your value and productivity isn’t enough.

Getting 2 weeks of vacation per year isn’t enough.

Getting insurance “discounts” for a family isn’t enough.

Getting a 401k isn’t enough.

Two day weekends aren’t enough.

Workers should have the luxury to spend more time with our families and work on things we’re passionate about instead of helping someone else profit off of our hard work all day long.

When you work a typical job you work during the day, usually 8–5 or 9–6 in most cases. So what happens when you have a doctor’s appointment or need to visit the dentist or deal with a residence issue?

You have to dip into your paid time off and use it. Businesses have started calling it PTO instead of vacation because these days can be used for anything.

However, most companies will allow you to take time off but it will be unpaid. And when you get paid hourly, you can’t afford to take that time off. You have to make it up, which means coming in early and staying late for several days if you took even the afternoon to attend to your personal matters.

I worked at a business that granted employees 1 day of PTO per quarter in their first year. After that, you received 2 weeks of PTO. Any time I had an appointment or a housing matter to tend to, I had to make up the time during the week.

Americans are working long and hard to afford a life they don’t even get to enjoy until they’re close to death.


Recently I discovered that Finland is #1 in the world for education. When educators were asked why they explained that there is very little homework and the school day is short. They cut back to allow the children to enjoy themselves and this has helped them become the best country for education (Source: Finland Today/Where To Invade Next?).

Meanwhile, Americans get tossed into an education system that doesn’t celebrate creative freedom. You become a machine to feed capitalism and hop on the first cog ride out of high school, reaching the wheel where you’ll labor for 40+ years.

We should be challenging these standards and systems, not continuing to further them. People believed Henry Ford was crazy when he presented the 40-hour workweek. He has since been celebrated for his contribution to capitalism and he reaped major rewards for what it did for his business over a century ago.

“Someone once told me ‘time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” -Rustin Cohle, True Detective, Season 1

I love this quote because, in a way, our relationship with work is derived from eternal recurrence. Made popular by the German philosopher Friedich Nietzsche, and celebrated in ancient Egypt along with the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, eternal recurrence is the belief that time as you and I know it will continue to repeat forever. We’ll keep repeating the same life and the same events over and over again (Source: Wikipedia).

This theory of eternal recurrence is similar to how our work lives operate. We wake up at the same time, drive the same path, have the same conversations, do the same tasks, and leave to go home at about the same time every day.

We go through these motions for years without challenging why we go through these motions. We know that it’s for money, but what’s the purpose of money when you never get to spend it? What’s the purpose of working all of those hours when you don’t get to see your family and friends?

We’ve put more value into WHAT we do instead of WHO we are. I’m not just a digital marketer. I’m not a title for a company. I’m a husband, a father, a writer, a brother, a son, a friend. You are more than what it reads on your business card.

Life has vastly changed since the introduction of the 40-hour workweek. It’s time that we begin to enjoy more of it with the people we love, not the work-family we’re forced to spend with one-third of our lives.

How do we accomplish that? We have to start challenging the status quo for work. It won’t be an easy task and it won’t be a quick task.

However, it’s a task that we need to start today so we can leave the world in a better place for generations to come long after we’re gone.

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Joe Coad II

Written by

Life as an introvert (INTJ). 30-something millennial figuring out life one essay at a time. Husband. Father. Thanos snap survivor

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +566K people. Follow to join our community.

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