It is just a small trial program, but the announcement by Amazon.com that they will be experimenting with a 30 hour workweek could have implications far beyond the company. The plan is for a few technical teams to be made up entirely of part time workers.
These 30-hour employees will be salaried and receive the same benefits as traditional 40-hour workers, but they will receive only 75 percent of the pay full-time workers earn.
While Amazon has other part time workers, in this pilot program an entire team, including managers, will have common work hours from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, for a total of 16 hours, with the additional 14 hours counted as “flex time” that can be scheduled at the employee’s convenience.
Amazon got some horrible press when New York Times report described Amazon as a company that encouraged salaried employees to work upward of 80 hours a week while rarely taking vacation. The article “was a huge blow, from an employer attractiveness point of view,” said Rita McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School commenting on the program in the Washington Post. “Piloting reduced hours could be the company’s latest experiment with ways to attract top talent”, she said.
Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute “There has for a very long time been a stigma against working reduced hours, or part-time work,” she said in the Washington Post article. “Even names like that, ‘part-time’ or ‘reduced,’ make it seem like a deviation from the norm, like you’re doing less.”. It is possible that the way this program is structured – with Managers also working part time, that the “stigma” will be reduced and Amazon has even left open the option that employees in the program can transfer to a program with a 40 hour work week.
Here is something for those who believe in the 40 hour work week to worry about: what if this program is a success? It very well could be – studies have shown that the average American worker only has three productive hours a day anyway – what if these workers just get on with it, and are just as productive as those who work 40 hour weeks? What if these jobs prove to be popular? – Many employees would be happy to work fewer hours in exchange for more family time – especially if the benefit program is the same.
This experiment seems fundamentally different from the “just shy of 30 hours per week” companies like Walmart use to circumvent labor laws. This actually seems like a new offering that will give employees both choice and flexibility. For those who want a healthy fair and labor market, this is a good thing, for those who want to hold the line with the 40 hour week status quo, not so much.