What Science Says About the Shorter Work Week
Imagine: A world where a 4-day work week is the norm. You have 3 full days off - days where you can do whatever your heart desires (or your at-home to-do list requires).
It sounds nice, doesn’t it?
The shorter work week is the hot topic of conversation lately (and has been for a few years now!). And the 4-day work week isn’t the only variation that researchers are examining. Based on the data, the 6-hour work day could be equally beneficial for productivity and for stress management at work.
Surprisingly, most workers are only productive for about 3 hours out of their 8-hour day. That is only 38% of their entire working hours.
Why is this the case? It’s not just because people are browsing the web, checking the news or their social media feeds, or answering text messages. On average, an office worker is interrupted approximately every 3 minutes. It takes most about 23 minutes, if not more, to refocus after being interrupted.
Basically, we spend a lot of our time task-switching - which ultimately leads to decreased productivity. Yet, the 8-hour day has potential to be effective. The 8-hour day is productive when breaks are taken at hourly intervals - but not many people do this. And unfortunately, this is often frowned upon, with office drama coming into play involving whispers about someone taking way too many breaks.
In other words, companies should be concerned. The 8-hour, 5-day work week could potentially be ruining their employees’ productivity. And on top of that, it could seriously be stressing individual workers out (which tanks productivity even further).
The solution? Not everyone is going to agree on this one. But in an ideal world, individual workers would get paid the same salary as they are now, but just work less.
What would this look like? A 5-day, 6-hour work week amounting to 30 hours in total, or a 4-day work week.
Let’s take a closer look.
Examining the 5-Day, 6-Hour Work Week
Today’s world looks fondly on those that put in overtime and long hours to get the job done. But what if the job could be done better? What if taking a break and coming back to it could equate to greater success and quality? Plus, we can all admit it - a 6-hour day sounds pretty great.
In Sweden, researchers conducted a study examining the 6-hour work day. Over the 2-year period, they found that the nurses had increased productivity, less sick days, and reported feeling better overall. However, the biggest hurdle was the added expense of bringing in additional staff to cover the 2 hours less that the nurses involved in the study were working.
But, with the right business model and implementation, the 6-hour work day appears to greatly benefit the workers and employers. The workers feel better, with improved health. And employers get more out of their workers in terms of productivity.
Another study explored the association between less working hours and musculoskeletal pain and conditions. Researchers concluded that a 6-hour work day significantly reduced neck and shoulder pain, specifically in those with more physically demanding jobs.
Yet, this can also be translated over into office jobs. If an office worker is able to cut down the amount of time spent sitting at a desk by 10 hours a week, they might suffer less back pain and other physical problems associated with sedentary behaviour (although this is assuming they might move more in their leisure time).
Further, imagine having an extra 2 hours for yourself every day. It really does make a huge difference. You could potentially finally have that work-life balance you’ve always wanted. You’d have more time for yourself - for the things you love the most.
It’s not exactly a far-fetched dream. Some companies are already making the 6-hour work day a reality. Amazon is even trying it out in certain departments as a pilot program. A search engine optimization company in Sweden called Brath has also made headlines with their 6-hour work day operations. So don’t lose hope! Your workplace might be seeing changes sooner than you think.
Breaking Down the 4-Day Work Week
The 4-day work week has been put on trial in a variety of different ways. Some studies have condensed 40 hours into 4 days. Others have limited the week to 30 hours, with only 4 working days - sticking with the traditional 8-hour work day.
Studies even date back as far as the 1970s on this one. I know: Why we are still working the 5-day, 40-hour work week? Change is slow, especially when it comes to societal norms. It frequently takes decades to break through barriers and set new baselines. Yet, it doesn’t mean change isn’t possible!
In this 1974 study, researchers divided the study into 2 groups. The control group worked the regular 40-hour, 5-day week. The second group worked a 40-hour, 4-day week. The second group reported more satisfaction with personal worth, social affiliation, job security, and pay. They also had - you guessed it - higher performance and productivity. And even, less anxiety and stress.
Could the 4-day work week help with stress management at work? Possibly.
Stress in the workplace leads to less productivity. Any way to alleviate stressors, big or small, is huge to any company’s or worker’s success. And the 4-day work week has the potential to do that.
Surprisingly, 68% of Canadians claim that they want the 4-day work week. Why? The main reason is that it alleviates stressors outside of work. Individuals are able to get things done. At the same time, a 3-day weekend offers enough time to also relax and reset.
A New Zealand company actually posed the question to their employees. Workers were able to choose to work either 4 or 5 days - with the one condition that they would still get all their work done. The result? Employees reported decreased stress.
The Lowdown: The Shorter Work Week is Better
...But, it will take time for any real and obvious change to take place.
It comes down to improving individuals’ health and wellbeing and reducing stress in the workplace.
The traditional 8-hour, 5-day work week is outdated. It doesn’t line-up with everything our society knows about overall health and wellbeing. We know breaks are necessary. We know they boost our productivity. We know some form of work-life balance is important.
A new revolution is underway! The potential and research is there. In time, society might start drifting toward a more balanced structure - one where individual happiness and health is put first.