If you’ve got a full-time job, it’s likely that you work at least 9-to-5, which is a typical eight hour workday. It’s quite possible you will actually work nine or even 10 hours a day as many companies end their work day at 6pm or 7pm. Thus is the life of a working stiff.
It used to be worse though. When I first entered the workforce in Singapore and later in Malaysia, it was quite common for companies to require staff to work half-day on Saturdays too. Those half-days were a complete waste of time. People came in, sat at their desks and basically waited for lunchtime to come so they could go home.
The thing is, many employers tend to measure their employees’ contribution to the company not by their productivity but by the number of hours they spend in the office. But this is the 21st century and employers need to get rid of that antiquated mindset if they want their staff to be productive.
Far from requiring them to spend more time at the office, they should be cutting down working hours. The four-day work-week (or a 32-hour workweek, based on eight hours per day), is something progressive companies are looking at. This concept has some high-profile supporters. Google co-founder Larry Page has been calling for the end of the 40-hour workweek for some time now and so has Virgin’s Richard Branson.
FINDING THE BALANCE
Actually, the concept of a shorter work-week is not new. As way back as 1930, John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist, wrote a paper entitled Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren which foresaw a time when we would have 15-hour work-weeks. Although nothing close to a 15-hour workweek has come to pass yet, there is ample evidence to show that a shorter work-week would increase productivity.
According to various studies, the average worker can really focus for only three or four hours during a typical eight hour day. The rest of the time is filled up with unproductive activities, including meetings, browsing online, visiting social media sites, chatting with colleagues or friends online and so on.
Requiring them to be in the office for eight hours or more will not result in productivity gains, just tired and restless employees.
An Ohio University study claims that workers were 64 per cent more productive simply by shortening the work-week. People will have more time to rest, to engage in leisure activities and to spend time with their loved ones. A better work life balance makes for a happier employee.
And this typically results in a more creative, productive and committed workforce because they appreciate the free time that their employer has given them.
Improving work-life balance saves companies money because happy employees are less likely to quit, says Jan Emmanuel De Neve, an associate professor of economics and strategy at the University of Oxford.
In his research, De Neve has found work life balance is a top priority for workers, ranking even above how interesting they found their job to be. “You want people to stay because turnover is incredibly costly,” says De Neve, who is also an associate editor of the World Happiness Report.
This is something that Henry Ford realised more than 100 years ago. In 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the revolutionary steps of reducing working hours to eight and more than doubling their salary to US$5. (The typical working day then was nine hours and the day rate for US$2.34). The company saw increased productivity. Workers knew they had it good at the company and became more dedicated. They worked hard because they appreciated their job.
Since then though the eight-hour workday has stuck and no major company has really done anything as revolutionary as Ford. Some companies are experimenting with radical changes though.
Last year, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company that manages trusts, wills and estates experimented with a 32-hour work week for a period of two months. Company owner Andrew Barnes saw no drop in productivity. Research he commissioned found his 240 employees were much happier because they could spend more time with their families and doing leisure activities, and came back to work more energised.
Employees were found to be motivated to find ways to increase their productivity so they could finish their work despite the drop in working hours. For example, meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes and employees came up with signals for their colleagues to give them time to work without distraction.
Apparently, the company owner Barnes came up with the idea for a four-day work-week after reading a report that suggested that employees typically spent less than three hours of their work day productively employed.
“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” he said. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?” There were also some other side benefits. The electricity bill was less. The researchers he hired to study the effects of the experiment said that customer service improved as well.
“When they rolled this out, the boss said if they can’t maintain 100 per cent productivity, or thereabouts, in the four days, then back to normal it would go,” said Jarrod Haar, a human resources and management professor at Auckland University of Technology who helped oversee the study. “So, staff have the motivation.”
There’s a lot to like about a four-day work-week but it might take a major business leader or corporation to lead the way and to do what Henry Ford did. When that happens, it could lead to others following suit, just as it did when Ford took that revolutionary step.