A Thirty Hour Workweek | Taking Care of People

Posted by James Helms on

Man stands in front of espresso equipment and pastry case.

We have an opportunity to define the narrative of our normal. During the first 30 years of my working life, a 40 hour work week was accepted as normal. The next 30 years of my working life does not mean having to maintain the status quo. We have centered a business goal for Rocky Butte Coffee Roasters toward making the 30 hour workweek normal for us. By breaking down motivations of our pursuit of the 30 hour workweek we hope to create clarity of purpose. By examining some history around the workweek we hope to place the conversation in proper context and by looking into the future, we hope to pave the way for a healthy, vibrant team that wants to work with our growing company.

I want to be clear, the thirty hour workweek that we are particularly interested in is a workweek that pays a full time, living wage for our area while only working 30 hours a week. This is not an attempt to avoid paying full time wages, cost savings or reducing benefits. We have been reviewing the MIT Living Wage calculator and set a starting goal where everyone on our team from barista to manager would be making at least $25/hr. This is a starting place (2022) and may include tips for the team on the frontline but does not factor in pay in terms of an additional benefits package. 

By being clear and transparent around our business goals, everyone from our stakeholders to the managing team can rally behind the goal and look for accountability.

The 40-hour workweek has been a standard for Americans since the early 1940's after the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938. Historically, there were not many laws that limited the number of hours an employer could require people work. The mid-late 19th century saw workers begin to protest long work days. By the 1920's Henry Ford began instituting a 40 hour work week in their manufacturing facilities.  In comparison to poverty wages and extended work weeks, the 40 hour work week was a positive development. Particulars around our modern age make a thirty hour workweek even more positive.

Between 1976 and 2000, families with two parents that work increased from 33% to 51%. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that only 5.5 percent of married-couple families had an unemployed member. 

In 1930 John Maynard Keynes envisioned the worker moving toward much more leisure than what the average worker is currently enjoying. Leisure being a pursuit of personal interest, not sloth. His notion of a 15 hour workweek, three hour workdays, feels more elusive than ever. The idea that technological advancement would somehow benefit the average worker did not consider human greed and the ever increasing edge of the adjacent possible. But technological advancement is in place to reshape how we work, further innovation around how a community invests in itself, how a community relieves the crushing burden of debt, how a community owns real property...there are many possibilities just waiting to be explored, there is more possible than our modern narrative is presenting.

 A thirty hour workweek is a beginning, it can create a way for families to begin reshaping how they structure their life. Routines, work, school, shopping, cooking, rest/recreation...it's a lot to fit into a single day, especially team members with children. The cost of living for team members that work a 40 hour workweek increase significantly as more Americans than ever are both living on more credit and choosing to eat out/order in instead of cooking meals in the home. It's anecdotal but after a full work day, shopping, cooking six days...it's a discipline to not eat out daily!

Add in all of the other things that pull our attention, family, home maintenance, standing in line, keeping on top of the paperwork...life can become overwhelming.

By consolidating our workdays to account for a thirty hour workweek, we will be more likely to be rested and cared for. We will be less likely to go to work from a place of over overwork and more able to give our best when we are working. When we create goals and constraints around our time, we encourage creativity and innovation. We shape our business practices and strategies on our overarching goals and align what we are offering with people who value our work and our care for healthy community. 

There isn't a way to sugar coat what we are working on, moving toward a 30 hour workweek while maintaining a living wage are goals that can fee insurmountable. The challenge is currently placed within the context of rising inflation, all of our numbers are moving targets. These goals are possible and it is a whole lot of fun to work on something as meaningful as this.

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