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Does a shorter working week actually boost productivity?

Weekdays are like TV commercials; they may have some interesting moments, but most of the time you’re just waiting for them to end so that you can get to the good part; the holy weekend. And who’s to blame for ruining the adoration of at least four out of the seven days of the week?

Work. Yes, that thing. That necessary evil that takes up what seems like all of the best hours of the day/week/month/year/life.

"Mondays are the potholes in the road of life." - Tom Wilson

If you’re on the Monday-Friday work schedule, your 40 hours a week probably looks a lot like the rest of the world’s. The Sunday night/ Monday morning dread, the Friday afternoon elation and slack off, the Wednesday “you can do it, half way there” affirmation, and the dreaded “How it is only Tuesday/ Thursday?!” depression. It’s a common cycle that we all share, but does it really have to be this way?

 

Is there a world where Mondays can be enjoyable, and where the weekend doesn’t seem to fly by on turbo speed?

The shorter working week may just be the answer to our employee problems. We’re pressed to find a single person who would turn it down, but just because we want it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for us, or our careers.

Here’s the breakdown of how it could really work, and if a shorter working week for all is actually realistic.

The concept

The thought process behind the shorter work week is built around the belief that a longer time spent working doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll work more. The theory is that you’ll get more/ better work done in a shorter work day than you will in a longer one, therefore granting you more free time as an employee, and allowing employers to get what they pay for.

But what would that look like exactly?

A shorter work week could come in a few different formats, such as:

  • Four longer work days and three day weekends
  • Shorter work days (6 or 7 hours) Monday to Friday
  • Flexibility (work when you want and get your work done)

They all sound like great options in theory, and while they don’t all involve working fewer hours, they provide the flexibility and customization that the typical office hours don’t allow for.

The arguments for it

Although our current working schedule is the norm, it doesn’t mean it’s the best. Many people believe that working 8 hour + days, five days a week is too much for the modern person, and overworking is bad for both our physical and mental health.

Having more balance in life and less work means we would have more time for the things that make us happy, which leads to overall improved health. Us being in better health theoretically means we will take less sick days, play hooky less often, and actually be more reliable employees.

Most of us also work best when we are well rested and have energy, and the common work schedule often leaves us tired and drained. So even though we’re working more, we’re not actually getting more done.

Workplaces are supposedly more efficient now thanks to technology, so theoretically we shouldn’t need to work as long as we used to. We can be more productive because we spend less time on menial tasks.

Shorter working weeks are also supposed to boost our economy and workforce by:

  • Allowing more people to be employed
  • Making childcare costs cheaper
  • Attracting the best employees to these modern schedules
  • Allowing more time for continuing education and training

The arguments against it

All of this sounds great, but the truth is that it doesn’t work for all jobs and employers.

The issue of pay is a big hurdle. In order to allow workers to maintain their current lifestyles while working shorter days, people would either all have to work on a salary basis rather than hourly, or the hourly wage would need to be raised to make up for fewer hours.

Having more jobs with shorter shifts does employ more people, but without a pay change for hourly full-time people switching to part time hours, there either needs to be a major lifestyle change for all, or people need to start getting side jobs, which will probably lead to them working as much or even more than they did before.

There’s also the slight problem that even though the theory has been adopted in some places, it hasn’t necessarily been working as planned.

While the initial reception would be great, and employees would be motivated to work hard by the reward of a day off, some employers believe that workers fall back into their old habits. Most of us are so used to our down time of Facebook scrolling and extended breaks that we can’t be trusted to give those up in a shorter day.

The stress of getting your work done in a shorter time frame may cause extra stress, which won’t make you happier or more productive.

The alternative method of creating fewer but longer work days runs the risk of burning employees out on a daily basis, as spending all of that time working in one day, being totally productive and energized isn’t really realistic either.  Some researchers believe that most people can’t actually perform more than 5 hours of quality work in one day.

These methods have received a mixed response in countries such as Sweden and France, and some employers who’ve tried to put it into practice have had to go back to old schedules or meet somewhere in the middle.

The introduction of the ‘work phone’ also means that many of us are accessible and doing some sort of work around the clock, so the clocked hour change wouldn’t make that much of a difference if we’re never really unplugging from the office.

Can we really make it work?

For some of us, and maybe most of us, yes. At the end of the day, a shorter working week isn’t going to work for every employer or employee. There will be people who take advantage of the system, and places where it just doesn’t work out, logistically and financially. Most agree that it is worth a try for companies that can make it work, and while most employees are on board, getting employers to buy in is proving to be a slower process.

We’ve been doing things the Monday to Friday, 40 hour week way for a while now, and employees seem to be more overworked, less happy and changing jobs more frequently than they were even a decade ago, so it may really be worth a solid try for those companies looking to get ahead in the modern era.

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