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This is how we finally end the 40-hour, 5-day workweek

California Congressperson Mark Takano, who introduced a 32-hour workweek bill, discusses how we can transform the way we think about our work schedules.

This is how we finally end the 40-hour, 5-day workweek
[Source photo: Marcus Aurelius/Pexels]


For many people, the biggest problem with work isn’t anything about the job itself; it’s how the timing constantly conflicts with everything else in life. We take for granted the “standard” five-day, 40-hour workweek, but the truth is, this structure was created less than 100 years ago to suit a much different reality.

In recent years, there has been a louder drum beat of support around reimagining the workweek to be four days instead of five. And as the four-day workweek has gained attention, some companies have found it to be a powerful recruitment and retention tool.


But this kind of restructuring fails to solve some of the most fundamental problems with many people’s working hours. What about parents with work schedules that are misaligned with their kids’ school day? Or sleep-deprived medical staff who work more than 12-hour shifts, or service workers dealing with unpredictable schedules?

A three-day weekend sounds nice, but it falls woefully short in solving these fundamental issues with how the working day and workweek are structured. So how can we redesign our hours to fit both employee and business needs? How can different industries adapt? Is widespread change even possible?

On the latest episode of The New Way We Work, I spoke to California Congressperson Mark Takano, who introduced a 32-hour workweek bill in Congress in 2021. He says that while Americans have been working longer hours than employees in other countries for decades, the pandemic put a spotlight on how much we work and how difficult this makes other aspects of our lives.

His bill has polled well across demographics and has been supported by Senator Bernie Sanders (who also introduced a similar bill), but has languished in the Republican-controlled house. The bill looks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of the 1930, which originally set the standard 40-hour workweek.


While his bill has been endorsed by 4 Day Week Global, Rep. Takano acknowledges that a four-day workweek might not be feasible for many industries who can’t just shut down an extra day every week. By focusing on a 32-hour workweek, companies could choose what that looks like for their employees: Five days a week at six hours per day, four days a week at eight hours—or any other variation.

Perhaps most companies would end up choosing a four-day week and it would become the standard the way the five-day week is now. But that’s not as important as the shift it would mean for the way we think about work.

He also notes that making a 32-hour week standard doesn’t mean that would be the most anyone would work. After all, many of us are working well over 40 hours now. But lowering the standard to 32 hours would mean that employees who do work more hours would get overtime pay.


While “knowledge workers” have been among the most vocal supporters of the 4-day workweek, and their companies are among the ones that have experimented most, Rep. Takano points out that these white-collar workers wouldn’t actually benefit from the law change, as most are exempt employees.

There are also more complicated issues with work hours that the bill doesn’t address: Medical professionals often work over 12-hour shifts and suffer dangerous fatigue and burnout. Also many service workers aren’t protected from “cloping” (working both closing and opening shifts back-to-back) and deal with unpredictable scheduling issues (though a few cities have laws against this practice).


More than anything, Rep. Takano notes that the more attention the issue gets, the better. He says change will likely come through more than just legislative means, including via private business and labor unions. For instance, the United Auto Workers proposed a 32-hour workweek as part of their bargaining agreement last year, although it was ultimately not included in the final contract. And, just as Henry Ford led the change to a five-day workweek in the early 1900s, there are business leaders today who are championing a shorter workweek.

“Moving from a 40 hour workweek norm to a new norm of 32 hours is also cultural,” says Rep. Takano. “It’s an idea that people are embracing, and I feel like there is a cultural force that’s out there. We can create a new norm together, collectively.”


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Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine. More

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