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Let's Leave 5-Day Workweek Behind After the Pandemic

Many already are reconsidering how and where they work, Anna North writes, and the schedule isn't inevitable
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2021 7:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – With the pandemic inspiring many Americans to reconsider how, where, and how much they want to work, this might be a opportunity to retire the five-day workweek. Employees' connection to the eight-hour, five-day week already is disrupted, and Anna North suggests in Vox that we don't have to return to it. "When you live it every Monday through Friday, year in and year out, it can be hard to imagine any other way," North writes. "But there’s nothing inevitable about" that schedule. It became law in the 1930s, an improvement from the 14-hour days that some employers required. The issue wasn't just how hard people should work but "an attempt to gain time back," a historian said. People are wrestling with deciding whether they want to spend so much of their time commuting or working in low-wage, sometimes dangerous jobs.

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The pandemic made workers pause to ask, "We have one life—and are we working to live, or are we living to work?" a worker advocate said. The 40-hour week came only after a long battle that included mass strikes. There were efforts for a six-hour day or an otherwise shorter workweek into the 1960s, North says, but they faded with the climbing unemployment of the '70s. Even before the pandemic, the workers' rights movement was building, especially with the drive for a $15 minimum wage. Studies in several other countries have found shorter workweeks pay off. "In a country as work-focused as the United States, it can be hard to imagine reforms that would help (some) people work less," North writes. "But some say the pandemic, along with growing worker activism in recent years, have created conditions similar to the 1930s, where big changes finally seem possible." You can read the full piece here. (Read more five day workweek stories.)

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