Australian experts have praised Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, for experimenting with a 30-hour work week.
Amazon employees under this new trial will be salaried and receive the same benefits as traditional 40-hour workers, but they will receive only 75 per cent of the pay full-time workers earn, The Washington Post reported in recent days.
This could be a reaction to bad press in the New York Times. Back in 2015, the Times reported that the retailer was encouraging employees to work upwards of 80 hours a week without regular breaks. But PR tactic or not, experts have backed the experiment.
Professor Phil Lewis, director of the University of Canberra’s Centre for Labour Market Research, said a growing number of companies are allowing shorter work weeks – such as weekends or school hours – because it seems to boost productivity.
“Increasingly it’s the more innovative firms recognising that they can get the best out of their working force by being flexible, making concessions with people with children or young people who are studying,” Prof Lewis said.
“This is where we are seeing innovation, flexibility, and the greatest productivity. Amazon must have done their research otherwise they would not have proposed this.”
It is a myth that people who work part-time or shorter hours are not working as hard as those in traditional 9-to-5, Prof Lewis said.
“People who work irregular hours are working harder and efficiently. Whereas if you’re working a 9-to-5 job, there are a lot of breaks to take. It’s very difficult for someone to work eight hours straight.”
The fundamental change in the workplace today has been the result of technology and a service-based economy, Prof Lewis said. The 9-to-5 workplace came about when people worked in factories and, for the production process to run efficiently, someone always had to be on hand.
“In a service-based economy today with technology, the internet and smartphones, workers do not need the sort of presence as was needed back in the manufacturing era. This is a structural and technological change. Today, managements can find better ways of organising their workforce.”
Dave McKillop, managing director of Talent Web Group, said it is “pretty archaic” for employers to refuse to offer flexibility, and warned they will be penalised in the labour market if they do.
“If you don’t have this as an option then you’re missing out on a potential huge talent pool,” Mr McKillop said.
“Working shorter weeks is very common overseas, particularly in Asia and Europe. For an employer to take on the view of only offering the traditional working week is pretty archaic. Smart companies, large and small, recognise that an employee’s output is more than just time sat at the desk.”
Employees today seem to be happy to forgo salary if they are offered a shorter week, and it may be a clever way for employers to attract workers who do not necessarily want full-time work.
“Other areas employers can entice workers are with bonuses, commission or percentage of output which forms part of their salary,” Mr McKillop said.
“Many people today who are working shorter hours can achieve the same result as someone who is working 30 hours a week.”