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Has tech killed the 40-hour work week?

People at work on computers in an office at a National Westminster bank, circa 1990.
People at work on computers in an office at a National Westminster bank, circa 1990.
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Work emails can be sent at all hours and presentations can be prepared on laptops. With this increase in flexible work schedules, are we still tied to working a traditional 40-hour week?

Jacob Morgan, with Chess Media and author of "The Future of Work," says no.

"The future of work is very much moving toward a flexible work environment where employees not only have the ability to work from home, but also have the ability to customize their hours, the projects they work on, who they work with, and where they work from," Morgan said.

Flexible work days is becoming the "competitive advantage" for companies — even expected by some employees, Morgan said.

"The future of work isn't focusing on how many hours people work; it's about focusing on what it is they produce," Morgan said.

Americans now spend more hours working than those in Britain, Germany, France and Sweden. Moreover, the number of hours spent on free time hasn't increased in the United States since the Great Depression.

So what does this flexible schedule say about an employee's personal life? Anna Coote, head of social policy at the New Economics Foundation, says a flexible work schedule can make for a 24/7 workweek. 

"The big question is who's got the power to decide how to be flexible. If the power is all with the employer and not with the employee, then the advantage is with the employer," Coote said.

Coote argues that part-time work should be the new full-time — and that less hours would actually make for a better economy.

"There are several ways in which a shorter work week is good for the economy. For starter, people who work shorter hours are more productive hour-for-hour. They make for a loyal, stable workforce, which is good for the balance sheet."

Coote added that people who work longer hours tend to be "heavy on the natural resources of the environment."

"A shorter working week is definitely good for society, good for our relationships with people, good for the things we really value in our lives, but it's also good for the economy and it's good for the environment," Coote said.

Critics of a shorter workweek say it would decrease how much individuals make, but Coote says "that is a problem of low pay, not low time."

"What we need to do is to be working to a better hourly rate of pay, rather than just say people need to work longer and longer hours," Coote said.

What do you think? Can working fewer hours make employees more productive? 


Jacob Morgan, co-founder of the managing consultancy, Chess Media Group, and author of the upcoming book ‘The Future of Work’ (Sept. 2014)

Anna Coote, head of social policy at the New Economics Foundation, a London-based think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice.

For more on this AirTalk segment, click on the "Listen Now" icon to the left. 

Nuran Alteir contributed to this Web post.