What If You Could Only Work 35 Hours a Week?

The idea of a 9-5 is laughable for most of us. The Great 40-Hour Work Week Myth. A concept adapted after the Great Depression in efforts to stimulate the job market, 40 hours was considered a shorter work week. It was the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 passed, which established the five-day, 40-hour work week for everyone, which is still observed today. 

In France however, a 35-hour work week is the current law. The cap, introduced in 1999 was flagship reform of the Socialist government in power in efforts to fuel job creation. 

In January of this year, in what is likely to be one of the final big policy initiatives of President Francoise Holland's government, Holland and Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls proposed an overhaul of the policy. It was not met with welcome arms. Quite the opposite, working to divide an already fractured Socialist party.  Of the country's 3,400 page labor code, 125 are dedicated to working hours-- hours many citizens see as a major tenet of the Socialist party. 

On the 9th of this month, protestors took to the streets as Holland and team presented draft reform of the labor code to cabinet. 

All of this uproar got us thinking. Surely we're better off than the 1800s when it was standard for men, women, and children in the U.S. to work 14-hour days thanks to the Industrial Revolution. But with the average worker in the US clocking 47 hours per week, what would a 35-hour work week even look like? 

And when, if ever, would you be in the prime position to pitch it to your boss?


This one has nothing to do with princes, and everything to do with market principles. 

Once upon a time in the '30s, influential economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that as technology advanced and made us more productive, the work week for man would become much shorter. In an essay called, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," Keynes anticipated a 15-hour work week. Today, we are working longer hours than ever, though one part of Keynes theory came true. 

Technology has made us faster, more connected, and in effect more productive. We link up with international clients with the click of a button. We can upload and market from our phones. Yet advancements have increased our workload, blurring the boundaries between on-the-clock hours and off.

Technological progress also fueled a consumerism boom, so instead of working less, people started buying more. The easier it became to market and distribute goods, the more we bought, and the more bought the more we had to work to bankroll our consumer tendencies. 


The Indeed Job Happiness Index 2016 scrutinized data to rank job satisfaction in 35 countries as well as major cities in the US and Europe. The study, released earlier this month, revealed that the happiest workers in the US live in Los Angeles.  According to Indeed the happiest workers in LA are those with “personal assistant, creative director, production assistant, and teaching assistant” roles. Might this have something to do with the non-typical work hours of those jobs? Perhaps. 

According to the study, "Compensation consistently ranks as the least significant factor when it comes to considering what makes people happy at work. However, although the work-life balance correlates closely with overall job satisfaction." In other words: shorter hours. 

"The work-life balance correlates closely with overall job satisfaction."

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There are other potential benefits. Shorter hours for one worker means more hours for another. Which is why some economists believe that a shorter work week is a job creation tool. 

Shorter hours might also mean a reduction in stress, anxiety, be better for your overall happiness, and reduce child care costs if applicable.  It would mean less money, but if the saying is true, money can't buy happiness. 

To deliberately work less would mean that you would also have to deliberately buy less. 


Hard to say. If you want to broach the subject with your employer, the best argument for a shorter work week is that it has been proven to increase productivity. But you also need to consider that the adage of working smarter, not harder applies to the case of the 35-hour week. 

If you have only four days to complete assignments you would typically finish in five days, it's economical for the company, beneficial to your mental health, potentially giving you the opportunity to find happiness and live-work balance. 

Is that, and a reduced pay check, worth the extra day off to you? Because you can't have your cake and eat it too in this case-- no matter what the French do. 

Or you could simply move to LA, where we might have the happiest workers and the angriest drivers.