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Overworked: America's Growing Call for the 3-Day Weekend


Summer is the season of the 3-day weekend—but for many small business owners, even a two-day weekend is an unheard-of luxury. America’s worship of hard-driving startup entrepreneurs has contributed to a cult of 80-hour workweeks. But now, growing awareness of the risks of overwork is leading even some entrepreneurial leaders to call for change.

The Washington Post recently reported on Treehouse, a tech company that’s had a 32-hour workweek with a 3-day weekend since 2005. Founder Ryan Carson says it’s been “life-changing.” 37signals co-founder Jason Fried has had a four-day, 32-hour workweek and 3-day weekend for employees at his software business from May through October since 2012. And last year, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim suggested a three-day workweek (the catch: 11-hour days) as a way to relax and enjoy “more quality of life.”

The risks of overwork are many. According to statistics compiled by the Center for a New American Dream, an organization that advocates for shorter workweeks, those working 11 or more hours a day are 2.5 times more likely to suffer depression and 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease. However, one in nine Americans work over 50 hours per week, and more than half of Americans take one week of vacation or less each year. No wonder 40 percent of Americans describe their jobs as “stressful.”

Apparently, the benefits of a regular 3-day weekend are abundant. Companies trying it report that workers are more creative, more energized and more enthusiastic about their jobs. Of course, personal and family lives benefit, which has a ripple effect on work life, too.

A 3-day weekend also benefits the environment as well. The Center estimates that shortening the workweek just 10 percent would cut carbon footprints by 15 percent. Shortening the workweek by 25 percent cuts carbon footprints nearly 40 percent.

How can you make changes in your business? Consider these options:

  • Cut the workweek to 35 hours, five days per week. Many companies that try this say workers are more productive in less time. Consider that the Netherlands, where the 35-hour workweek is common, worker productivity is on par with that in the U.S.
  • Institute a 4/10 workweek. If you don’t feel you can cut work hours, try cutting days, with 10 hours of work for four days per week. Some government agencies instituted this plan during the recession to cut costs. Having your business empty one day a week saves on utility costs and keeps workers off the road, cutting emissions.
  • Offer half-Fridays or alternate Fridays off during the summer. This is a popular option for the summer season, when workers are tempted by good weather anyway. Again, the “carrot” of Fridays off will generally motivate workers to get more done in less time.

The number-one rule when trying to cut the workweek? Walk the walk. Don’t offer a 32-hour workweek in theory, but stay 12 hours a day yourself or send employees emails on Saturday. As the boss, you may not be able to work just 32 hours a week—but cutting back your hours to give yourself some breathing room will benefit you, your loved ones and your business.



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