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Osakis Voices: Workin' for a livin'

I know that each of you reading this love a long weekend. When those days off hit just right, and you're looking at a three-day weekend and it's Friday morning, you're going to be pretty giddy (at least I know I am!). What if that ended up being every weekend? What if a shorter work week brought a stronger work-life balance, which in turn made for a more productive work week? Is that possible?

I'll preface this column by stating that I do not have the final answer; more so, I have opinions and thoughts on the matter that seems to be in conversation (and even in practice) in certain parts of the world.

A healthy work-life balance is one that allows for an individual to handle their career each day, but also gives time for personal needs, like family time, social time or time for rest and relaxation. There isn't a fast and universal formula to calculate what a healthy work-life balance is, as it's different for each person. Nevertheless, we all know what it's like to have a full workload and want nothing more than to simply kick off the shoes and relax without responsibility for a bit.

So, is a shorter work week a necessity for a healthy work-life balance? That answer is a simple one; Of course it is! Just like a fraction, reducing the numerator (work hours) is going to swing favorably to more free time, every time, as the hours in a day are a constant.

Simple enough: Let's just work less days, or less hours per day, and we'll have a happier and more productive workforce. But will we really? What about the manufacturing company that needs a certain output of product to make their annual budget? They'd have to hire more employees, or increase the cost of their product, whatever it may be, in order to compensate for the shortfall. What does that mean to you and I, the end consumer? Heftier prices, that's what. Sure, workers there are productive and happy, but I think that happiness may run out when you go to check out at the store.

Despite that, there are companies that are experimenting with shorter hours each day, or simply moving to a four-day work week while still paying the employees for five days. An entire community in Sweden had some of its sectors move to a six-hour work week. This was tried out primarily in nursing, and the trial went for two years to measure the feasibility of a shorter work week. It was found that while emotionally successful (as you would expect), it was incredibly expensive, and not something that would be able to continue indefinitely. There's another company in New Zealand that is trying out a four-day work week for their employees (they can choose which day they'd like off), but still pay them their regular five-day work week pay. The results for the company were quite favorable, and one they are looking into putting into a permanent practice. They found that during their six-week trial, the employees were more productive during the work hours, were less stressed out and had a great work-life balance.

Maybe that New Zealand firm is on to something. Maybe we can pull off a shorter work week (in terms of hours worked) without disrupting our own personal cash flow and keep a company successful. I also think that it is entirely dependent on the type of company, but one that I do see happening, and hopefully during our career life! Until then, let's make sure we're making the most of the time we have both at work and during our personal time.

Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.

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