Grinding down to a 4-day workweek

Courtesy of Flickr | Aflac released a report in April stating that almost 60% of American workers are experiencing a level of burnout.

Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor

I know it is only the second week of the semester, but I feel like somehow I am months behind in most of my classes.

I don’t know about you, but I need a day off, on a permanent basis.

With my second favorite holiday, Labor Day, happening on Monday, I think it is a fitting time to reexamine the typical workweek and move to a more adaptive schedule for the average American worker. In the spirit of the American labor movement’s success in the latter part of the 19th century, the moment has finally come to progress from the archaic 5-day 40-hour workweek to a more reasonable schedule.

This summer I was elated when I was given the opportunity to intern at a daily newspaper in a neighboring county. It was a paid gig, where I was given the opportunity to work the evening shift which was noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday with weekends off.

I felt like a real reporter.

I have heard stories from professors and seasoned reporters about the grind of a newsroom, and how new journalists have to put in the extra effort to make a name for themselves. Often framed as tales of caution, I interpreted these accounts as a romantic rite-of-passage. I pictured myself sitting at a desk frantically typing away as sweat dripped from my forehead onto the keyboard with my editor breathing down my neck.

While it sounds depraved, I longed for a chance to show my worth and prove that I could hang with the seasoned reporters. What art is worth anything without a level of suffering?

My goal this summer was that if I could not impress my editors with my writing, I was going to “wow” them with my work ethic.

And I did. I showed up early, stayed late, did whatever it took to hone my craft. I even worked the obituaries desk when there was a call off. I wanted to show the publication that was willing to take a chance on me that I was willing to put in the work.

Then something happened.

My brain reached muscle failure.

Now to clarify, I am not what you would call a “tight” writer. Ask any poor soul that has had to edit my first copy and they would be remiss not to mention all the “dumb” mistakes I make. My first drafts see so much red on them you would think they are from the former Soviet Union.

But my “dumb” mistakes evolved. Toward the end of the summer, my typical mistakes not only increased in frequency but in scope. I found the writing to be uninspired and just plain sloppy.

Perhaps it was complacency, ego or even simply laziness. All of these were undoubtedly factors for this sharp decline, but I knew there was something else happening.

I was mentally exhausted. I was running out of steam.

As a marine, I was once given a Commendation Medal for a mission in Afghanistan that required me to be awake for 72 hours straight, so I had a hard time fathoming that a writing job would be able to kick my butt. Once I removed my male driven ego from the equation, it was clear. Mental exhaustion is just as draining as physical exhaustion.

Our brains are muscles, and as any fitness trainer will tell you, one of the most crucial parts of building muscle is rest. When we work out, we are tearing our muscles down and the strength building occurs when that muscle gets repaired. Our brains are not much different than our biceps in this way.

We all have limits. Whether it’s a blue-or-white-collar job, the typical 40-hour work week is taking its toll.
Aflac released a report in April, stating that almost 60% of American workers are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout. A 9% increase from the last year.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. workers work, on average, 442 more hours per year than Germany, 295 more than the UK, 301 more hours than France and 184 more hours than Japan.

That seems to go against the “lazy American” stereotype.

The Seattle Times reported last week that San Juan County Council in Washington voted to move 70% of its county’s workers to a 32 hour week, stating that a shorter work week is “socially responsible” and will make employees “more efficient.”

San Juan County, according to Seattle Times, said the county’s transition to a 4-day workweek transpired from the findings published by the independent progressive research organization, “Autonomy,” who released a report in February on the results for a pilot UK program where 61 companies switched to a 32-hour work week for six months.

“Of the 61 companies that participated, 56 are continuing with the 4-day week, with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change,” the report stated.

The report also concluded that companies’ revenues stayed “broadly the same” during the time period.

The report found healthy growth of 35% during worktime reduction, compared to a similar period from previous years.

I am fortunate enough to be pursuing a career that fills me with passion. I am hoping to be one of the few people that get to make art for a living. Many of my fellow students, along with millions of workers who will not have the luxury of a college education, will not be so lucky.

This whole “grind” culture phenomena that is invading our algorithm on social media needs to be recognized for what it really is; another tactic used to exploit an underappreciated working class.

The short work week that we will experience next week does not have to just come on the rare holiday. A chance for a better work life balance is within our grasp.

We just have to work for it.