After news got out late last week that Amazon — Jeff Bezos' retail giant — is launching a 30-hour workweek pilot program, even the Bezos-owned Washington Post raised an eyebrow.
Reporter Karen Turner pointed out the launch of the program comes just one year after a brutal (if controversial) New York Times story suggested the true length of an Amazon workweek was closer to 80 hours, and that employees would often cry at their desks.
Whether or not the move represents a mea culpa, it's got teeth — at least on paper.
A few select teams of tech workers and their managers will get full-time benefits despite working only Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., plus flex hours.
One theory is that the program is motivated less by PR than business savvy: "Amazon has spotted a chance to get talent on the cheap as a result of other employers not offering child friendly, or child care friendly, working hours," wrote Tim Worstall for Forbes.
Indeed, employees in the program will be considered part-time, and paid only 75% of what normal full-time workers are paid.
But if the pilot is a success — and inspires other companies to start offering similar flexibility — it could offer relief not only to working mothers and fathers, but also to the growing segment of U.S. workers who must care for aging parents and other older family members.
For women in particular, data shows that jobs with greater time flexibility tend to be fairer in terms of pay.
But it's not just women who stand to benefit from the program as detailed: A study by Stanford economist John Pencavel found that there's a relatively linear relationship between hours worked and productivity only up to 49 hours per week.
After that, output starts plateauing — such that someone working 70 hours is barely more productive than someone working 63 hours.
In other words, workers are more effective when hours are humane; that's just one of the many reasons workers and bosses alike benefit from fewer required hours.
After all, hours on paper rarely match up with reality.
A Gallup survey from 2014 found that the typical "40-hour" full-time workweek is actually 47 hours long.