Can the 30-Hour Work Week Fit Your Business?

30 hour work week

There’s a movement afoot to shorten the traditional 40-hour full-time work week to a 30-hour work week.

Spurred by increasing concerns about our always-on culture and the popularity of books like “The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss, the concept has attracted interest.

But can it possibly work for a small business?

Shorter work weeks have many benefits, those who support the concept contend. Some of the arguments in favor include:

  • Benefit to the environment — Employees aren’t commuting as much, which typically involves public transportation or driving.  A book by experts from the New Economics Foundation, called “Time on Our Side,” argues that a 30-hour work week would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping the planet.
  • Reduction of emotional and physical stress — A shorter week for workers would allow them more time to rest and recharge.
  • Stimulation of the economy — Workers presumably can spend money on leisure pursuits during their time off.
  • Contributions to society in other ways — A shorter work week would give employees time to volunteer or take classes that make them more productive in the long run.

Other nations are more productive than the U.S. with shorter work weeks, some contend. The German economy is famously robust, but workers only put in an average of 35 hours a week.

Here are a few other things to consider, though:

For retail businesses or small businesses with specific customer support hours, it may be difficult to cut back on hours and still satisfy customer needs.

A 30-hour work week may not be welcomed by hourly workers who are paid by the hour and need the extra income from working 40 hours. It’s more of a perk for salaried workers, especially in knowledge industries, who often put in 50, 60 or more hours per week.

Cutting to a 30 hour work week won’t allow your business to reduce benefits or healthcare in most cases. Full-time under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is defined as any employee who works 30 or more hours on average per week.

A 30-hour work week is obviously easier to implement in a huge corporation with lots of employees to fill in the vacated hours. For small businesses with only a few employees, it’s a bit more challenging.

How can a small business owner implement a 30-hour work week? Here are some ideas:

  • Give everyone the same day or days off — The most obvious solution is to implement a 4-day, 7.5-hour schedule for all employees. Give people the day off that’s typically slowest for your business.
  • Rotate days off — If you can’t have your entire office closed on certain days, create a schedule that provides enough coverage to handle work each day while still giving every employee one day a week off.
  • Use a seasonal approach — Implement a 30-hour work week during slower times of year and a 40-hour work week during busier times.
  • Set up a work-from-home system  Employees would be in the office 30 hours per week and can work at home the other day. This isn’t a true 30-hour work week, but does provide more flexibility.
  • Set workplace quotas — Instead of measuring hours, measure output. Require employees to get a certain amount of work done, ideally in 30 hours. If they can’t complete it, they’ll need to work longer, but the possibility of a shorter work week is highly motivating. You’ll need to make sure the quality of work doesn’t suffer.

While a 30-hour work week may not be realistic for you, the business owner, you might find that being at the office 30 hours and spending more time away improves your results. Even if you are working, you’ll be able to focus better and strategize the big picture. You won’t be putting out fires all day long or interrupted by employees.

An alternative to the 30-hour work week is the 10/40 system. Under this system, employees work 10 hours a day, four days a week. Although it means longer workdays, many employees find the day off is worth the trade.

Treating employees well makes your business a better place to work, makes your employees more energetic, and helps you attract and keep workers.

Sometimes, you really can get more from less.

Traffic Jam Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.