Restructure workweek, Americans need rest

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Photo manipulation of person working in office around the clock. concept.

Mikayla Magdziarz, Columnist

Two days off from the 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek doesn’t give Americans enough recovery time to maintain their wellbeing. Whether it is reshaping the 9-to-5 workday and working fewer hours, or implementing a four-day workweek, American employees need recovery time from stress and increased demands.

The rigorous hours workers spend dedicated to companies and organizations can only produce so much productivity when employees lack recovery time from mental and physical fatigue. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now approximately three more work hours added to the average workday. The hours increased because remote work has called for learning curves, increased demands and new schedule structure, according to an April 2020 Bloomberg article. Working from home makes it more difficult to separate your tasks, and easier to continue strenuous work now that living rooms have become makeshift offices. 

The wellbeing of employees should be at the forefront of organizations’ concerns because the overall operation and production of businesses are a reflection of individual employees and workplace conditions. 

Vacation time is not enough rest. Employees can take a vacation, but recovery time on vacations is short lived. Vacations provide benefits and relief, but the level of work intensity quickly rises back to its normal level once workers return. 

“According to research, it’s important not only to get recovery over the weekend but to get recovery each and every day,” assistant psychology professor Racheal Saef said. “In my mind, it’s about finding a way for organizations to support the flexibility of their workers.” 

The pandemic introduced remote work to the masses, and now the lines between work and home life are often blurred. The balancing act between work and personal life is a lot harder to do when the work component is growing heavier on employees. 

Remote workers may feel more inclined to answer calls and emails at any time of the day outside of normal 9-to-5 work hours. Organizations may also feel more comfortable with increasing demands or calling employees outside of working hours because the remote work experience is intended to allow a flexible schedule. 

Employees deserve the flexibility to maintain or deflect interrupting negative effects of excessive demands and stressors that negatively impact them during the workday, which recovery time can provide. 

Re-imagining the workweek is not a wholly strange concept to national labor structures, nor is it completely unheard of in the U.S. Many companies have experimented with the four-day workweek before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Forbes

Recovery time allows workers to seek and build resources they need to recover from stress, like social support or psychological resources that allow one to improve their well-being, such as engaging in hobbies or exercise. 

“You can think about the mechanism as seeking the good and avoiding the bad through our recovery experience,” Saef said.

Spain is currently launching a government approved 32-hour workweek trial in response to the pandemic as an attempt to improve the overall well-being and work-life balance of employees, Más País, the leader of a left-wing Spanish party, announced via Twitter

Spain’s economy will not be affected by this trial due to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s administration setting aside 50 million euros of public funds to implement this three-year program. 

“People need to have the flexibility to have the weekends they want,” Saef said. 

Whether it is re-imagining the 9-to-5 workday by working fewer hours or transitioning to a four-day workweek, hard working Americans deserve the recovery time to maintain their wellbeing and allow themselves to decompress from the work grind. Not only will this yield happier employees, but it will also make for better-run businesses.