Workers Are Doing Less Work for the Same Pay

The American workweek is shrinking. As of May 2023, the average American worker put in only 34.3 hours — just shy of the 35-hour average of 2021. But that doesn’t mean workers are going home with lighter paychecks. 

On the contrary, many workers are doing less work for the same pay. This development speaks to the continuation of a trend marked by evolving attitudes toward work and changes in how employers handle paid time off (PTO). 

Changing Attitudes Toward Work

For many people, their job is more than just a paycheck. It’s who they are. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 39% of Americans say that their job is “extremely or very important to their overall identity.”

But that number is highest among those with advanced degrees — that is, for people who have reached their potential and are now “living the dream.” There’s another large segment of the American workforce. In 2019, roughly one in five Americans worked in some type of service industry (retail, food service, hospitality, etc.), a number that hasn’t significantly changed since the pandemic.

The workers who form the backbone of many small businesses aren’t looking to their jobs for a sense of identity. In fact, as Amanda Mull commented in The Atlantic Magazine, these workers are “doing more types of labor [and] spread thin across the economy,” often delivering your food and goods “in the trunk of their own car.” These workers are striving for a greater work-life balance, “working to live” rather than simply “living to work.”

More PTO

In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” many employers have expanded their benefits in an effort to attract and retain their best talent. This includes expanded offerings for paid time off (PTO), which means that workers are getting paid for more hours than they’re actually working.

A 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal shined a spotlight on a restaurant in Minnesota that gives its full-time employees 40 hours of PTO each year, as well as an additional hour for every 30 hours worked. Part-time staff get 1.5 hours for every 30 hours on the job.

That’s actually great news since nearly one-third of the American workforce does not have access to PTO. That’s a number that may soon change, as the WSJ reports that 80% of employers now offer paid sick leave, up from 67% just 10 years ago. Similarly, paid vacation time has risen to 77%, while paid family leave leaped from 12% to 27% in the last decade.

Fewer Hours for the Same Pay

Economists point to the expansion of PTO as the reason for the shrinking work week. The WSJ reported that, in the first half of 2023, the number of hours worked dropped to 32.9 per week, down from 33.5 a decade ago.

In other words, American workers are working fewer hours while enjoying the same pay. In fact, USA Today reported that many employees are also seeing wage increases. This shows that expanded PTO is only one way that employers are seeking to remain competitive in today’s job market.

The trend will likely continue, especially since employers are increasingly desperate to hang onto workers in the present economy. Furthermore, 70% of employees have expressed an interest in “unlimited” PTO for maximum flexibility. While “unlimited” time away may not be practical for most small businesses, it reflects the growing demand for a more even work-life balance among a large percentage of the labor force.

What This Means for Your Small Business

What do these trends mean for your small business? First, your workers are looking for flexibility and work-life balance. Expanding your PTO (sick leave, vacation time, family leave, etc.) may be a way to retain your current workers and help reduce burnout. PTO might also be a valuable selling point in your recruitment marketing strategy.

Of course, many small businesses may struggle with the very idea of paying employees who devote fewer working hours to the company. However, if your budget is tight, there may be other ways to provide flexibility. Offering a hybrid or remote work schedule can give workers more freedom to complete their tasks while also tending to other obligations.

Business automation is also allowing companies to accomplish more in less time. Accounts receivable/payable tools eliminate the need for time-consuming data entry and manual paperwork, allowing companies to keep growing while keeping their workforce to a minimum. That saves business owners money and provides more opportunities for PTO.

Navigating the Future

At Focus HR, we keep our finger on the pulse of the American workforce. Do you need help adapting to current trends and future challenges? Contact us today to request an HR consultation for your small business.

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