On the Clock

On the Clock: Is the Traditional Workweek a Thing of the Past?

Working 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, has been the norm for employees in many industries for decades and still is in most cases. Workers leave their homes before the sun rises, and return home long after it sets. There are even those overworked souls who’d put in 60, 70, or even 80 hours a week at their jobs. But overworking your employees, while it may seem necessary at the time, only backfires in the end. 

Laptop and Watch

While burnout is not a new phenomenon, the pandemic has only made it worse. “In our view, 2020 did not change what burnout is — it remains a syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. If someone is experiencing high rates of all three of these at work, that indicates they are burned out, while low rates of all three indicate they are engaged. But

although Covid hasn’t led to a redefinition of burnout, it has certainly aggravated it and the related forms of workplace distress,”

shared Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach in their interview with Harvard Business Review

Even with the dawn of the smartphone and all the conveniences that having an entire computer right in the palm of your hand bring, and while communication may have gotten easier, other bad habits were created as a result. For one, employees are often expected to be available practically 24/7 to their employers via email, texts, etc. It never truly allows an employee to be off the clock, so to speak.

“Many of today’s organizations sabotage flow by setting counter-productive expectations on availability, responsiveness, and meeting attendance, with research by Adobe finding that employees spend an average of six hours per day on email,” said author and podcast host Steve Glaveski in his HBR article. Another study found that

the average employee checks email 74 times a day, while people touch their smartphones 2,617 times a day. Employees are in a constant state of distraction and hyper-responsiveness.”

However, even before the pandemic, there were whispers of companies that allowed employees to change their schedules up in ways that might better suit their lives, such as four, 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, or flex hours that would allow them to fulfill their 40-hour week as they saw fit. But these unicorns were still few and far between. 

It begs the question: Is an eight-hour workday really even necessary? Also, do we really need 40 hours in which to do our jobs? Maybe. But, maybe not. 

It’s been argued by some (the Prime Minister of Finland, for one) that

changing that eight-hour day to a six-hour day, or even a four-hour day, could reap a multitude of benefits for not only the employee but for the organization.”

It incentivizes employees to prioritize their work, be more effective, waste less time on trivial tasks, keep meetings short, and make the most of the hours of the day in which the employee is feeling the most alert and productive. 

It also allows the employee to spend more time with family and be able to enjoy life outside of work. And shorter hours will most definitely attract new talent to companies that offer such an uncommon, but very welcome perk. 

In fact, researchers who studied the impact of a four-day workweek at Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand found impressive results.

“In just three months, overall levels of productivity increased 25% and empowerment, enrichment, and engagement scores among employees climbed 40% – the highest levels the researchers had seen in New Zealand.”

That’s not to say, however, that all jobs are equal and can be done in shorter days. Customer-facing industries like retail and hospitality, which are especially struggling to find and keep employees, might actually suffer as a result of reduced workweeks. But there are many more industries that almost certainly can operate effectively with a few changes.

Given that a study “found that employees are productive, on average, for two hours and 23 minutes a day,” a shorter workweek is something to consider in the future. It will result in happier, healthier, more productive employees who will ultimately feel valued and appreciated by their employers.

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