Amazon Tests 30-Hour Work Week

Aug 28, 2016

The Washington Post reports that Amazon is launching technical teams whose workers will only clock in for 30 hours a week. While plenty of employees at Amazon are part-time, the novelty here is that the teams are entirely made up of workers on a reduced schedule, including managers. The teams’ members will receive the same benefits as full-time employees, and 75% of a 40-hour workers’ pay.

The stated goal of the program is “to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth.” The initiative was accompanied by an event last week titled Reinventing the Work-Life Ratio for Tech Talent.

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That reference to work-life balance highlights the possibility that that the testing of a lower-intensity schedule comes partly in answer to a damaging 2015 New York Times investigation into Amazon’s work culture. That report depicted the company as a challenging, even merciless place to work.

But this is about more than just one company's culture. The idea of a work week of 30 hours or less also speaks to several large-scale issues around technology and employment. More and more voices are arguing that automation is lowering overall labor demand in the economy, a trend that will only increase. A 30 hour work week is seen by some as a way to more evenly distribute the shrinking pool of labor among workers, and reduce the potential of automation to increase income inequality.

Mexican magnate Carlos Slim has gone further, arguing that a reduced work week will increase innovation, and mesh better with shifts in aging patterns.

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Amazon told the Post that it has no plans to change its work-week on a companywide basis, but its program could encourage other companies to offer something similar. It could also have a positive effect on womens' employment and careers by making it easier to balance work with home and childcare obligations—since men in heterosexual marriages still often aren't doing their share on that front.

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