Home Men's Health The Benefits of a Shorter Workweek

The Benefits of a Shorter Workweek

53
0

Before all this—before offices shuttered, unemployment soared, and “work-life balance” became a sneering oxymoron—Banks Benitez had a radical idea: He wanted his employees to work less.

Benitez is the CEO of a small social-entrepreneur accelerator in Denver called Uncharted, and when he said “work less,” he didn’t mean 45 hours per week instead of 50. Benitez wanted his employees to work four days a week—32 hours—for a full week’s pay. Away from screens and work, he wrote in a company email, his team would have the time to live more “healthy, creative, and audacious” lives. In May, as the pandemic panic congealed into whatever forever- nightmare this is, Uncharted began its grand experiment.

“Before the experiment, I was working 55 hours a week,” Benitez says from his home, where he’s been working since March. “Right now, I’m working 33.5. That’s just a little over 32—but I’m the CEO, working 33.5 hours a week. I feel good about that.”

The downsized workweek isn’t as fringe as it may sound. The prospect of lessening hours while keeping salaries steady got a boost in May when everybody’s prime-ministerial crush, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, floated the idea as a way to improve domestic tourism and spending. Sanna Marin, now Finland’s prime minister, said in 2019, “I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies, and other aspects of life, such as culture.” Big corporations like Microsoft and Shake Shack tried it, too, and didn’t see productivity drop. And it will surprise no one to learn that plenty of studies have tied long hours to weight gain, anxiety and depression, coronary heart disease, and premature mortality.

This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

“The four-day week offers a way of dealing elegantly with a bunch of structural inequalities,” says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D., a researcher and the author of Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less—Here’s How. “Work-life balance, parenting, gender inequality, burnout. Lots of companies have programs to deal with these, but the four-day week solves all of those problems at once for everybody.” Or at least some of us. For so many essential workers who get paid by the hour, a shorter workweek would be a disaster. But that’s why experiments like Uncharted’s matter—if Benitez and his team can prove that happy, healthy employees work harder, then maybe companies will see it’s worth it to pay everybody a living wage, no matter how many hours a week they work. Still, even for the salaried crew at Uncharted, Benitez worried that the change was inviting disaster. He fretted that his employees wouldn’t be able to get the work done, that they’d be too fried if they did, that morale and teamwork would falter, that clients wouldn’t take them seriously and business would suffer.

But if they could prove they’d be successful and productive during a four- day workweek, then why should any of us ever work a Friday again?

Testing the theory of a shorter workweek

Zach Strom, Uncharted’s venture- funding director, is a natural introvert, so working 40 to 50 hours a week and then seeing friends over the weekend—on top of the normal chores and errands that chew through leisure time—left him drained. “I wanted to use that as time to recharge,” he says, but he rarely could.

.

Subscribe to Men’s Health

Hearst Magazines
amazon.com

Benitez hoped to give employees like Strom their weekends back. But Uncharted isn’t a charity; he couldn’t just cut the amount his team produced and pay them the same. That’s why a hallmark of pretty much every company’s attempt to shorten the workweek has been a detailed study of employee productivity.

“I thought theoretically it could work, but I had no idea,” says Jarrod Haar, Ph.D., a professor of human-resource management at the Auckland University of Technology. Haar studies work-life balance, and he likes to think that he is on the worker’s side. So when he heard that Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand firm that manages trusts, wills, and estate planning for clients, was trialing a switch to four days of work back in 2018, he jumped to study the effects. The results were good news for the company. “Productivity stayed the same over four days rather than five,” Haar says. “But interestingly, I had some other performance indicators, too. How good was customer service? Were employees helpful? More creative? All those things went up, too.”

office chair broken into pieces

Travis Rathbone

That’s because, Haar figures, working four days a week was good news for employees as well. Haar’s surveys showed that workers’ lives improved markedly. People exercised more and spent time in their gardens. They baked cakes for neighbors and visited elderly parents. Self-reported mental-health markers all climbed—stress ticked down 7 percent while the perception of work-life balance jumped 24 percent. Employees who worked less were happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. And as a result, the work improved.

Yet 40 hours has proved hard to cast off. There’s no centuries-old tradition that marries us to five eight-hour days each week. No data that suggests Monday through Friday is ideal. Forty, it’s worth noting, is an entirely arbitrary number. The length of the workweek had been steadily declining for about 100 years before the 1900s. “The question is,” says labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, Ph.D., at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “why did we stop at 40 hours a week for so long?”

What you can do with 32 hours

When I spoke to Benitez in the summer, Uncharted was halfway through its experiment, and signs were positive. Strom was hiking uncrowded trails on Friday, then seeing friends and family on the weekends and feeling recharged. Data from a third-party auditor wasn’t in yet, but Benitez thought productivity was staying steady.

The change hadn’t been seamless, though. One interpretation of Parkinson’s Law argues that work expands to fill time allotted, but squeezing 40 hours of work into 32 still required a dramatic adjustment in the way employees allotted their time. “I’m a person that, and this is embarrassing to admit,” Strom says, “more often did the stuff that was easiest first—because it feels good to check things off.”

The whole team started drawing up quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals and rearranged the workflow to achieve them. Everyone read Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, to figure out what parts of their work mattered most. McKeown espouses the 90 percent rule: Rank the work you typically do all day on a scale of importance from zero to 100. If it scores under a 90, it may as well be a zero—cut it. The goal, McKeown says, is to do only things that are excellent uses of your time and do them excellently.

smashed computer

Lumina Imaging

Uncharted employees learned that it wasn’t rude to decline a meeting they didn’t need to attend. Worthless emails were banished, and four hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays were devoted to meeting-free “deep work” with minimal distractions. For Benitez, it’s meant a complete restructuring of his week. It’s not perfect. “There are some loose ends,” he admits. “But I think they’re just not important loose ends.”

Your brain on working less

Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., is an expert in chronemics—the study of time and how it relates to human communication—at the University of Texas, and she thinks it makes sense for “knowledge workers” to work less. The time off activates your default mode network, the part of your brain that makes good ideas percolate when you shower or go for a long walk, she says. “A modest decrease in hours leads to greater productivity,” she adds. “I want to shout at people: If you just give people more time, you would solve so many problems related to people being unproductive.”

Still, the question comes up about whether a decrease in work frequency is offset by an increase in the intensity of the work. Which is no way to live, either.

Early in the summer, Benitez worried that the intense workload could lead to burnout or diminished creativity, though he hadn’t seen it yet. I asked Strom in late August if it was worth the trade-off. He thought about it for a second. “I’ve loved it. It’s been an incredible benefit,” he says.

If employees like Strom can complete the same amount of work—or more—in less time, then workers everywhere can call for reduced hours for the same pay, and managers might have to listen. We— knowledge workers, hourly laborers, gig guys—could take back more of our lives.

A pandemic—when the economy, individuals, and companies are struggling—may seem like no time for workers to fight for it. But Pang, the four-day- workweek writer and proponent, says it is. “These days, everybody’s working lives are upended, and it’s become clear that companies and people are capable of adapting to novel situations,” he says.

So why not try getting out of the more- is-better mentality? After all, for most of us, the hours we work, be it 40 or 32 or 100, aren’t our own. It’s what we do with the remaining time that matters.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a34225731/shorter-workweek/

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.