Other Voices

Why can’t America adopt a five-hour workday?

Some Americans believe if they are not working into the night they’re not living up to the the hard-working, big-earning ideal.
Some Americans believe if they are not working into the night they’re not living up to the the hard-working, big-earning ideal. AP

The American workforce has become lazy.

I estimate, conservatively, that knowledge workers are four times as efficient as they were 20 years ago.

That’s why I moved my company to a five-hour workday about a year-and-a-half ago. We work 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with no lunch; then, we leave.

For a beach lifestyle brand like ours, this move made sense. Revenue and profits are way up, and we’re attracting great talent — but that’s not the interesting part of this story.

What surprised me was how visceral a reaction — both positive and negative — people had to this simple experiment.

People are either huge fans or hate the idea. While the five-hour workday garnered rave reviews overseas, Americana have approached it skeptically.

Why? Because the idea of working less doesn’t jibe with the hard-working, big-earning ideal the American workforce so proudly identifies with.

Tucker Carlson once said to me, “Let me ask you a philosophical question: Aren’t we sort of put here to achieve something? Maybe sitting on the beach or paddle boarding isn’t the purpose of life.”

I responded, “The point of life is not work. We’re not economic slaves.”

Tucker’s comment was in line with most American media and people I’ve spoken with.

Our Fox & Friends segment drew more than 1,000 strongly worded comments, clearly showing that questioning the utility of Americans as a people of strong work ethic touches a nerve. And many media outlets refused to cover it, chalking it up to gimmicky, socialist nonsense.

Internationally, it was a different story.

A week after my article on the five-hour workday published in on a major business magazine’s website, the Hamburger Morgenpost in Germany dubbed me “the world’s best boss.”

A German TV crew even called me on a Friday and flew out to film my company the following Monday.

Germany’s NPR station interviewed me that same week, and dozens of articles flooded Germany, Austria, Switzerland, India, the UK, and Canada within a week.

The irony is that this story is about a fast-growing company in Southern California developing a technique to radically shift the American workday, yet major worldwide media have pounced on the story.

When the German NPR crew interviewed me, I found out that the five-hour workday was an overnight sensation in Germany because Germans pride themselves on being highly productive people.

The idea of working harder for shorter periods of time makes perfect sense to them.

In my mind, moving to a five-hour workday killed two birds with one stone. More free time means a better quality of life, and increased bandwidth due to heightened pressure yields more production.

Our country is so caught up in our image as an efficient, high-grossing entity that we’re blind to the notion of improving our workforce — no matter how valid the idea.

A 2012 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that worker productivity in the U.S. grew 80 percent between 1973 and 2011, while hourly wages only rose 11 percent.

My time running a startup has made one thing clear: Don’t stretch a task out longer than necessary. You either become efficient and productive, or you cease to be self-employed.

So when the boss in me sees that 80 percent growth number, I get angry and wonder why American bosses in similar positions don’t feel the same.

On the flipside, employees are getting the short end of the stick by stagnant wages to the tune of 11 percent in 40 years. Maybe that’s why they’re not finding ways to work faster.

Is this the new normal in the world’s largest, most dynamic economy?

If we don’t change something fast, that stranglehold on first place will be disrupted.

Our revenue is still up, and all the metrics are going in the right direction.

Employees are more productive and happier. Work has become something we do in the morning instead of the central point of our lives.

My staff has started working more like my entrepreneurial friends: get in, get stuff done and go live your life.

I’m here to tell you — if you’re willing to listen — that a five-hour workday is not only possible, but it’s also a better mousetrap.

Maybe Americans aren’t lazy; maybe our thinking just is.

Stephan Aarstol is founder and CEO of Tower, a holistic beach-lifestyle company, which includes Tower Paddle Boards, Tower Magazine and SunglassesByTower.com.

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