Alternative schedules: How working less produces more
If my employer held a company-wide meeting and asked who would welcome a shorter workweek, my hand would shoot up like a rocket. There would be no hesitation. I”d even throw out a suggestion-please reduce my hours to 20/week, I”ll share the workload with a new hiree. Whatever it took, I”d be willing to play.
The concept of a shortened workweek has recently come to a light boil. Articles discussing the idea have surfaced in major and popular publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Salon. There seems to be a small but growing faction of society-including academics, economists and workers-who are sick and tired (literally) of hearing people say (or saying themselves) “I’m too busy.”
Busyness appears to have become a true representation of status. Being consistently busy and working long hours is a demonstration of success. The recent economic downturn hasn”t aided those working long hours either. For employees who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs through rounds of lay offs, the result has been increased workloads, even longer hours, and less and less leisure time.
So what does all this busyness mean? Has it in fact weeded out the hard workers from the lazy? Are those with increased workloads really getting ahead? It appears that in fact the opposite may be true. Longer hours are making people less productive (per hour), while increasing anxiety, decreasing leisure time, and preventing workers from stepping away from work to actually relax. As executive coach and advisor Ray Williams writes in his Financial Post article, ‘the truth of the matter is busyness does not result in greater productivity and instead is contributing to a culture of continuous anxiety and stress.’
Some companies are paying attention and testing out the theory that less may be more. Taking advantage of less demanding “seasons” (times when the company generally has less work) software company owner Jason Fried explains in his New York Times piece that during “low seasons” the work week is reduced to 4 days a week. Fried points out that the 4-day week doesn”t mean ’40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. [Employees] don”t work the same amount of time, [they] work less.’ Fried says there have been surprising results from the shortened week. One is that ‘better work gets done in four days than in five.’ Interesting consequence! ‘When there”s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what”s important. Constraining time encourages quality time,’ says Fried.
This concept of a shorter week is not just a matter of productivity; it also might benefit economies and decrease unemployment. This year, the English think tank New Economic Foundation held a conference on the topic of government mandated shortened weeks. ‘If everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families,’ argued Anna Cootes of the think tank the New Economic Foundation. Salon contributor Sara Robinson echoes this sentiment, stating that ‘for every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there”s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn”t.’
What do you think? Would you welcome a shortened workweek or happily share the load with another employee?