Growing up in my little Pennsylvania hometown, most businesses would close early on Wednesdays around lunchtime. The idea was that they would re-open in the evening or on Saturday mornings to give people who couldn’t get away from their nine-to-five jobs the chance to shop, go to the bank, etc. To this day, a few places (the ones that are left) adhere to this tradition. They shut their doors at noon or so mid-week, everyone knows they do, and we plan our lives accordingly.

It works in Philipsburg, a rural place with a few thousand loyal...

Growing up in my little Pennsylvania hometown, most businesses would close early on Wednesdays around lunchtime. The idea was that they would re-open in the evening or on Saturday mornings to give people who couldn’t get away from their nine-to-five jobs the chance to shop, go to the bank, etc. To this day, a few places (the ones that are left) adhere to this tradition. They shut their doors at noon or so mid-week, everyone knows they do, and we plan our lives accordingly.

It works in Philipsburg, a rural place with a few thousand loyal customers who have known for decades that Larry’s Saw Shop won’t be open Wednesday afternoon. So we get our chainsaws dropped off for service on Tuesday or first thing Thursday morning. That’s just the way it is. Life goes on. Philipsburg sustains itself on a steady economy and is not dependent on the demands of a huge, diverse population. But a lot of American businesses not located in the backwoods are.

Which brings us to “a big thirty-two-hour workweek test” underway in the UK right now. Much is being made of the proposed four-day workweek and its potential, but, much like Regina George’s skepticism over “fetch” in Mean Girls, I have major doubts about this trend really taking off in the US.

The concept is this: reports of stress and burnout among American workers have increased a ton since the outbreak of Covid. Joe O’Connor and Juliet Schor report at CNN Business, “Working hours have risen higher during the pandemic than they have in years, likely due to the hot economy. So it’s not surprising that a record number of workers are quitting their jobs in search of more flexible opportunities.”

To combat these consequences, some employers are considering offering employees the chance to work fewer hours for the same pay, so long as their productivity does not diminish. Doing so, researchers have found, improves wellbeing and company productivity.

“In Iceland, beginning in 2015, 2,500 public sector workers started working 35- and 36-hour weeks with no change in pay,” O’Connor and Juliet Schor report. “Careful research found positive effects all around. Workers had less stress, more energy, better work-life balance, as well as steady or improved productivity.”

Should Iceland, of all places, or public sector workers, of all people, really be our model for economic productivity? Iceland is a country with 366,425 people, compared to the United States’s population of 330 million (and counting). And depending on the season, Iceland experiences either near-total daylight or near-total darkness. It’s a strange small place that seems cool but is definitely not a standard by which to compare American life.

Don’t worry — O’Connor and Schor cite other positive outcomes from Sweden and New Zealand, two nations with $749 billion in GDP combined, compared to America’s GDP of $20.94 trillion.

The point is that all these studies showing how wonderful the four-day workweek system is are done in small countries that produce much less and are much easier to manage than the United States. It’d be like me saying, “Well, Larry’s Saw Shop does fine closing every Wednesday afternoon in Philipsburg. Why can’t it work in Manhattan?”

Silly analogies and studies aside, it’s true that we have a worker stress and burnout problem in our country. But reducing hours across the board seems like an impractical, ineffective, elitist solution. People who run restaurants and gas stations and grocery stores can’t just pay their workers to work less. The successful four-day workweek examples typically involve non-tangible, digital office-type work, not truck drivers and garbage collectors who can’t stop working. It’s easy to say, “We need a shorter working week” as a worker. What about when your livelihood relies on how many hamburgers you serve or sprockets you sell or how many loads of gravel you deliver?

A shorter workweek may very well work for many industries, and all the power to them! I’m quite enjoying the extra rest I got over the Juneteenth holiday and am 1,000 percent in favor of government employees working way fewer than thirty-two hours a week. But to combat the worker crisis, we should be asking different questions. Why does it seem simply being at work stresses people out? Won’t having only four days to get everything done increase stress?

What is it about modern work life that makes it so unenjoyable? Is it woke corporate culture killing all the fun? Onerous government paperwork? Redundant, bureaucratic, regulatory red tape? Demeaning policy memoranda? Tedious tax forms, HIPPA disclosures, terms and conditions clauses, liability waivers?

Is it the soulless nature of the work itself? As over-regulation and globalization killed millions of American manufacturing jobs and the thriving little communities they supported, might people, stuck on a never-ending phone and email-answering hamster wheel inside a utilitarian office building, have less pride and satisfaction in the work they do?

It’s likely a combination of all these things. The sudden spike in worker stress and burnout after Covid is also telling. Why are people working longer hours (I sincerely doubt it’s the “hot economy”)? What did Covid change, and how do we get our workers back to where they were pre-bat flu?

All over my town — and the country — there are “Help wanted” and “We’re hiring!” signs. Workers are disgruntled not because they’re not working four days a week, but because in the five days they are working they’re doing the job of two people, at least, and paying for their ex-co-workers to stay home.

The Foundation for Government Accountability released a paper last November (a real punch in the gut but worth the read) that found three key facts:

Even though expanded unemployment benefits and bonuses have ended, Americans are still staying home.

Covid-19 has become an excuse to create and expand welfare programs that discourage work.

Welfare now pays better than work for millions of Americans.

France has its Champagne and croissant and two-hour lunch culture, Spain its sangria and siestas, and America saved their entire continent in not one but two world wars because hard work is in our DNA. We need more people to work, so those working can work less hard; we need taxes and regulations to decrease, so we can have better jobs, produce more and afford to buy more; and we need businesses, not high-minded researchers, to decide what work schedule works best for them and their employees.