Managers are always looking for ways to keep employees engaged, happy, and—most importantly—productive. But they might not realize that one path to achieving all of those results is to encourage people to work less.
Yes, that said work less. As in, put in 33 hours a week instead of 40. Or work a compressed schedule that allows for three-day weekends. Or work six-hour days instead of eight-hour days.
That sounds counterintuitive, but several businesses that have experimented with shorter work weeks are finding that both their employees’ morale and their company’s productivity are boosted by the arrangement.
Perhaps the most common option tried by companies is the four-day workweek. Many businesses let their workers put in four, 10-hour days—or even four, nine-hour days—followed by a three-day weekend.
But some businesses shorten their workweeks even more.
For example, employees at eXO Skin Simple work what they call “Swiss hours,” from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Clarke Bowling, the company’s digital marketing manager, said in an NBC News article that the schedule gives employees plenty of time to get their work done without wasting time.
Tower Paddle Boards found similar success after shifting to five-hour workdays, without cutting salaries or benefits. Its employees work from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, eliminating lunch breaks that usually take longer than they should and leave workers in food comas during the afternoon.
Sweden has experimented with six-hour workdays, for both government operations and private companies, with mixed success.
The NBC News piece mentions Andrew O’Brien, CEO and founder of The Publicity Guy, who pays his team members full-time salaries for 30-hour workweeks. O’Brien said his workers also get to choose their own schedules, and as a result, they are “more productive and willing to work hard than if they worked eight-hour days, five days a week.”
Another company, Causeumentary, has maintained eight-hour workdays, but designates one hour (in addition to a lunch break) each day to be used for non-work activities. The so-called “self care hour” lets workers watch television, talk to friends, exercise, or do anything else they want to do—except work.
A more radical suggestion came from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who “proposed a three-day workweek, where working three 11-hour days followed by four days off would become the norm,” according to an article from the Undercover Recruiter. “This idea was corroborated by Richard Branson, who wrote in a blog post that people should be encouraged to work ‘when, where and how they like, in order to get the best results possible.'”
Clearly, there are many options for flexibility when it comes to reducing the length of the workweek. When considering whether these ideas are a good fit for a particular company and its workers, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
Of course, there are some possible drawbacks to short workweeks, as noted in a Social Hire article. Those cons include:
- Initial expense. Building a program to offer reduced work hours can be costly in the first stages, with benefits only appearing later. And sometimes, clear financial advantages don’t appear at all.
- Poor fit with the needs of the business. “For many jobs, six working hours is not enough, for example in a client-facing role where it is the individual in demand rather than the role itself, a surgeon or barrister, for example, or school teacher,” the Social Hire article says.
- Trouble with competitors. If you are in a service industry, and other companies in your sector are offering help to clients until 7 p.m., you could lose business if you’re shutting down earlier in the afternoon.
But the potential benefits of a shorter workweek include:
- Less employee exhaustion. Sleep deprivation is a real problem for many workers today. When they have shorter workweeks and more time to sleep, they will be able to focus better and work more efficiently while they are on the clock.
- Better health. When people work fewer hours, their stress levels decrease. They also tend to have more time for exercise and sleep (as mentioned above). The result is better physical and mental health, which also leads to higher productivity and fewer days lost to sick leave for a company.
- Improved recruitment and retention. Many people love the idea of a shorter workweek. When a company can tout such a benefit to potential new hires, it may get a leg up on businesses that stick to the standard 9-to-5, 40-hour week. And once employees start working at a company that offers reduced hours, they may be more likely to stay, saving the company money on additional recruiting and training.
- Better balance. When they work fewer hours, people have more time to spend with their families or to pursue hobbies. They have more balanced lives. That can have a positive impact on productivity, but beyond that, helping people find balance is just the right thing to do.
It’s important to consider both the pros and cons before pushing for a shorter workweek with your employer. If it appears to be a good fit for your business, working less could bring big benefits to employees’ health and happiness and to the company’s bottom line.
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