Does the classic 8 hr day / 40 hr work week still work?
This classic work week was first established following World War II. Nowadays, with so much change and development throughout the workforce, many would argue this method is well and truly outdated! The Information Revolution (1974- present) has given us the ability to access information at the tip of our fingers in seconds. With all this automation and easy access to information, we have managed streamline many of the mindless tasks that used to be dreaded and extremely time consuming. However, with the rise of technology so to has the increase in distractions. Just have a look around your workplace, the continually pinging of our phones and email browsers often grab our attention and pull us away from the work we were completing. How is anyone able to get work done, especially when you consider that marketing specialists now use science to their advantage!! Their aim is to access our primal pathways and capture our attention, so instinctively it is getting increasingly harder for us not to respond to the distraction and reduced our ability to focus and filter information effectively.
The development of technology has benefited us as we are able to complete a substantial amount of work outside the office. Some of the latest phones (e.g. Iphone X) have 250 G of storage, that is the equivalent storage of some laptops! (more than my current laptop I write this on 150G..) You could work from home on your phone if you really wanted to. However, the downside may be that we are expected to respond to and complete work, especially email and notifications being a primary feature of smartphones. This keeps everyone stimulated at all hours of the day, 7 days a week. This then leaves us with no time to downregulate and recover. This constant stimulation is running us into the ground!
Time for a change?
If you ask us we think so! Below are a few case studies of employee focused business who are utilizing various methods to get the most out their staff while keeping health as a prime focus. They like us believe it change is required and are well aware that with increased health in the workplace their is an increased return on investment.
As for any change it can be difficult without any direction so listed below are a few case studies of successful business that have utilised various strategies to implement change of the traditional work day.
Amazon in 2016 announced a pilot program offering a 30-hour workweek. Selected employees will earn 75 percent of a full-time salary, but receive the same benefits as full-time employees.
The employees are expected to work Monday through Thursday from 10am to 2pm with flexible work hours outside this time frame. This ensures that employees working 30 hours a week will have at least 16 hours of overlap with their other colleagues.
“We want to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth,”
We are yet to hear results from this trial but this new format is a common structure that is now being considered across many business.
Another great example of a company implementing a compressed workweek. CEO Jason Fried makes it clear that working overtime is not the way to earn recognition from him. With a strict 32 hour work week, with 4 days of work per week.
Fried says that this cuts out wasted time and allows the employees to focus on what is important. For example, at Basecamp you will rarely find people wasting time with long drawn out meetings that don’t reach and effective conclusion. He has even suggested that meetings be comprised of 4 people or less. “Less people helps a meeting to move a lot faster.”
“If you’re overworked and tired you make mistakes, and mistakes are costly,”
Closer to home 200 employees at New Zealand trustee company Perpetual Guardian, implemented a six-week long trial which concluded in mid April this year, where staff worked four days a week but got paid for five.
Christine Brotherton, head of people and capability for Perpetual Guardian stated, “People have been thinking quite hard about that third day off and how best to use it so it can change their life. Some people come back to work and are incredibly energised,”
One staff member mentioned “While colleagues still socialise during the work day, the office space is quieter and more concentrated, and “water-cooler chats” are briefer. “I am feeling significantly better equipped when I begin the work week now””
Swedish Nurses 2 year Trial
Sweden completed a 2 year experiment with nurses cutting the 8 hr workday down to 6 hrs making a 30 hr work week instead of traditional 40hrs (for same wage). They had a 22% increase in gross cost as they required staff around the clock to service the patients so had to increase staffing by 15 staff. However, they saw a 10% decrease in sick leave and a 50% increase in perceived employee health. Initially they had no plans to continue this format following the trial, but due to success they set aside 20 mil Swedish krona to implement a similar strategy on other public sectors in Gothenburg.
Sadly this study did not do a great job at measuring the return on investment so it is hard to predict if it was truly successful from a financial standpoint. It is also often criticised due to high (~22%) increase in gross cost for additional staffing. However, I personally believe it would had made a significant long term gain in employee health, engagement and job satisfaction which would flow into financial gain long term.
Possibly it’s biggest hindrance was being a service based business. Nursing requires continuous stream of staff to serve needs of patients which presents a greater upfront cost in covering staffing needs. It is possible that appling this compressed workweek is more beneficial to knowledge workers (like previous example: amazon & Perpetual Guardian) not so much service workers. Not to say it is not beinfical for service workers but I believe the financial benefits would present a much stronger picture for knowledge workers.
Since 2004, Netflix has allowed their employees to take as many vacation days as they have wanted. Employees have the freedom to decide when to show up for work, when to take time off, and how much time it will take them to get the job done. There is no need to request leave they have full autonomy, they just need to keep their managers in the loop.
With technology increasing access to work outside the office it has become nearly impossible to quantify total work hours completed outside of the office. So instead of complicating things Netflix decide to keep them simple and change with the times and remove the tracking of working hours.
Netflix high performance culture is so ingrained. Employees on all levels are expected to perform at a very high levels and are rewarded with a generous severance package. Instead of micromanaging their staff the leadership focuses only on what matters—results. From this imparted freedom has created a more responsible and motivated culture that is a lot more productive.
Following the Netflix example Sir Richard Branson enforced a similar policy. The policy-that-isn’t permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want. Like Netflix there is no need to ask for prior approval and neither the employees themselves nor their managers are asked or expected to keep track of their days away from the office. It is the employee’s choice to select their time off a few hours, a day, a week or a month off. The assumption is that staff member is comfortable that their team or project will not be affected by their absence which could inturn damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!
Google is famous for giving their engineers 20% of their work week to work on whatever they want to, that they believe would most benefit google. Google believes that its highly creative employees will devote at least some of that time to projects that benefit the company.
“This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”
With a wide range of strategies and with many overlapping it is easy to notice common trends; Strategies that are designed with the employee wellbeing in mind are successful. I believe there is no one size fits all approach and each business needs to assess their business to identify strategies that will work effectively in their setting. Hopefully this highlights that productivity does not come from more time at work but more focused time. Providing tired examples that you can use as templates for establishing change in your workplace.
In our next post will talk in depth about strategies for achieving this state of deep work.