Can we improve productivity by working less?
Concepts such as flexible timetables, compressed work weeks, or a 30-hour work week have become more and more popular among millennial employees and are even being tested by some major companies in the US and EU developed countries.
The flexible timetable allows employees to decide on the work start and end times, when they come in and leave the office to optimize their commute and personal life, keeping the number of hours and workload constant.
With regard to the compressed work week, there are several alternative models to the traditional 5-day standard, in which employees work 40 hours a week, but in fewer days. The most common options are four 10-hour days, three 12-hour days, or alternating between a week with five 9-hour days and a week with four 9-hour days.
The most revolutionary experiment is, however, that of the productive and focused week of only 30 hours: either 6 hours a day in the 5 traditional working days or the 30 hours distributed during the first 4 days of the week.
All of these versions have emerged on the market when the attractiveness and reputation of employers began to increasingly depend on a more relaxed work culture.
Flexibility has become a standard employer branding benefit, an essential employee engagement component, and a differentiating retention and loyalty factor. More and more people talk about the right of employees to demand greater flexibility in their work schedules to ensure a balance with their personal lives, dedicated to family, hobbies, health. “The right to request flexible working hours”.
Automation allows for a reduction in the amount of time-consuming repetitive tasks, and the reduction in the workload provided by each employee would allow maintaining a decent employment level, as well as focusing on more creative and innovative tasks involving regular breaks to charge batteries in nature or by doing relaxing activities.
Researchers have revealed that time spent away from work, doing recreational activities, meditating, talking, or just walking around nature, sets creative energies free and stimulates innovation.
Office breaks and shorter meetings may prove good for business, especially in the digital economy and knowledge fields.
Higher quality of life and increased purchasing power have led people to want to enjoy what life can offer at an active age, well before retirement.
Cruises, weekend tourism, sabbatical years, active parenting to raise children, caring for parents and the elderly in the family are other reasons why these scale down experiments have become so popular.
Reducing working time – motivated by raising children or taking care of elderly parents – has become a dominant feature of the new lifestyle, especially among the middle class in rich countries, where people have become more aware of the importance of health and family.
We’ve been accustomed to take work with us wherever we go, even on holidays or at home, but this habit does not need to be set in stone for the future as well.
Also, maintaining an active workforce for a longer period of time and up to older ages has to be accompanied by a natural reduction in the rhythm and intensity of work.
Recent studies by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research concluded that working a maximum of 30 hours a week is good for the cognitive function of the brain over the age of 40, and that any exceeding of this recommended duration of work affects the performance and quality of managerial decisions, which is good to know because most managers fall into this age category.
Also, research by Professor John Pencavel at Stanford University has identified a dramatic drop in hourly outcomes from the perspective of the volume of tasks properly fulfilled once the threshold of 50 hours worked in a week has been exceeded. Accumulated fatigue and stress can cause reasoning errors and accidents, and poor sleep leads to low levels of energy and initiative.
A study by the Harvard Business Review indicates that specialists, professionals and experts do not have the ability to focus more than 5-6 hours a day in their field, with their focusing abilities being most accurate and effective at the very beginning of the day.
Since 2007, Tim Ferriss, one of the most innovative bestseller authors and a businessman, has said that quality work is done better in four working days a week rather than in five. The fifth day, saved as a result of such a practice, can be dedicated to personal and professional development, continuous training, socialising, learning new skills and reinventing through education, entrepreneurship, or generating alternative sources of income.
We work a lot, but inefficiently, because we are not accustomed to an intense work culture, in short, but productive bursts. The culture of overworking and overtime has been considered and assumed until recently by Americans as the price paid for wealth and prosperity.
And this, even though there were also voices supporting the opposite. As early as 1932, Betrand Russel, in his “In praise of idleness”, was already talking – predictively – about the fact that the average man should not work for more than four hours a day, and American activist Herman Kahn said in 1960 that, “one day Americans will work four days a week and enjoy 13 weeks of vacation”.
In short, what are the main benefits of the 30-hour work week, the flexible timetable, and the compressing of the number of working days?
■ Better health of employees, reflected in fewer days of illness and sick leave.
■ Better work-life balance.
■ Increased productivity and efficiency.
■ Focusing more on results, in shorter, but dedicated, bursts.
■ A positive and proactive “can do” attitude towards work and the fulfillment of tasks.
■ Making financial savings for companies by reducing utility consumption and better capitalising on office space.
■ Avoiding burnouts and reducing the stress experienced by employees.
■ Increase in employee engagement.
■ Retention and loyalty of talents.
■ More creativity and innovation due to a more rested brain, restored in relaxing breaks.
■ A reduction in early retirement and an increase in the active life of older employees.
■ An increase in the attractiveness and reputation of employers open to experimentation among young talents.
■ Reduced absenteeism and increased job satisfaction, with the increase in the time available to the employee’s personal life and freedom of choice.