September 25, 2020
by Tina Arnoldi
Working less each day can increase productivity, but what about working fewer days in a compressed workweek? A study of 350 respondents found that “implementation of a compressed workweek reduces job stress, which enhances work-life balance and work productivity.” Another found that “flexible work arrangements play a significant role in moderating the relationship between chasing productivity demands and well-being,”
I invited Tanya Dalton, founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co. and author of The Joy of Missing Out to share her thoughts on the benefits of a compressed workweek on productivity.
Dalton explored the history of the standard 40-hour workweek for a podcast episode she was recording. She was surprised to learn the average standard workweek was 100 hours prior to 1940 and no one questioned it. Dalton noted that when Henry Ford decided he wanted to move it to a 40-hour workweek, the industry mocked him until they figured out that he was actually getting more productivity out of his workers than they were.
“As a productivity nerd, this got me thinking about the 40-hour workweek," said Dalton. "Does the 40-hour workweek still allow us to really produce our best work in 2020? Or is it possible that we can take it even further than Henry Ford did and reduce our working hours even more without changing how productive we are weekly?”
Her conclusion was that working less than forty hours would result in more happiness for employers and employees, which is why she decided to close her office on Fridays. She based her decision on a combination of the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law. (The Pareto Principle says that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of our efforts. Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”).
She explains, “If an individual knows that she has five days to complete her work for the week, the work will stretch to fit those five days. Now, if that same individual knows that she has four days to complete her work, it's been proven that the same amount of work will get done, just faster. The extra time that got shaved off? That's just generally spent on stressing, fretting, procrastinating, and worrying about the project. A deadline, even if it's an internal deadline set by you, will push you forward and motivate you to complete the task. Having one less day to complete the task means you have to hone in your focus. Work does expand to fit the time allowed to do it. So if we make that container of time smaller, we'll still get the work done.”
Jessica Lim, HR Partner with MyPerfectResume agrees with Dalton’s conclusions. Lim said, “The standard workweek is a historical vestige all the way from the Industrial Revolution, so it is much more of an arbitrary duration than a scientifically measured one. When properly incentivized and motivated to make this a reality, I believe that employees would be more than eager to follow suit and make this happen.”
Alexis Haselberger, Productivity, Time Management and Leadership Coach, supports this with an example from her own experience. “When I came back to work from my first maternity leave, and for the first time had a hard stop at 5:00pm everyday to pick up the baby from daycare, I became instantly more productive,” said Haselberger. “Because there was no longer the option to just work longer, the stuff that had to get done got done in the window of time allotted. Additionally, reducing work hours shifts the work-life balance a bit, giving people more time for themselves and their families, which alleviates stress. When we're less stressed, we're happier, and when we're happier, we're more productive.“
Lim concludes, “Between people still getting their work done despite working remotely and flexible hours becoming the new norm, the paradigm is constantly shifting to let employees custom tailor their schedule accordingly. This is simply the next progressive step.”