Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. It’s the schedule the vast majority of us in salaried positions follow, and have followed for the past several decades. Legally, 40 hours of work each week is considered “full-time,” and demands certain full-time benefits, and any work done beyond those 40 hours is considered overtime. The traditional “9 to 5” day has become a familiar staple of office culture and work culture in general, but entrepreneurs and managers are starting to discover the flaws in such an employment model.
Many companies are already adapting to find better alternatives to the conventional 40-hour workweek, and those that aren’t may find themselves outpaced as the 40-hour approach slowly works its way into obsolescence.
The root motivation for creating and enforcing a consistent “40-hour workweek” expectation across the board is to establish a sense of fairness — both in making sure no employee receives special treatment and in making sure employees are not abused or taken advantage of by management. To date, the system hasn’t failed, but can it truly be called successful?
A recent survey found that of 1,200 American adults, 18 percent worked 60 hours or more every week, with another 21 percent claiming to work between 50 and 59 hours. Still another 11 percent estimated between 41 and 49 hours per week, leaving a total of 50 percent of American adults working more than 40 hours every week. Occasionally, this is due to personal motivation, but more often it’s due to peer pressure or pressure from upper management to stay later and work harder.
In this way, the 40-hour workweek is already dead. In some cases, the regimented schedule is completely ignored in favor of meeting certain project needs. In others, it is so strictly adhered to that it becomes a fault. Either way, the pretense of a standardized 40-hour workweek is an obsolete notion.
The Threats to Productivity
Giving all your employees exactly the same schedule and exactly the same number of hours may seem like a “fair” system, but it’s ultimately illogical. Real life doesn’t adhere to such fixed standards, and trying to compartmentalize the natural flow of work can lead to serious problems in individual and company-wide productivity:
· Burnout. Two types of burnout can come from the 40-hour workweek. First, coming and going at the same times every day, day in and day out, can lead to mental exhaustion. It’s inspired many future entrepreneurs to bail out just because they’re sick of the “same old routine.” Second, many employees and institutions view that 40 hour mark as a minimum, or as a challenge to do more, and end up working as many hours as possible just to prove a point. This type of behavior will only result in eventual fatigue, causing productivity to crash.
· Less individual efficiency. Not everyone works the same. Your accountant might work very efficiently at 6 in the morning and be ready for a nap around 3. Your designer might prefer to sleep in until noon and then work through the evening. Confining everyone to that strict 9 to 5 schedule naturally reduces everyone’s potential efficiency.
· Less creative stimulation. Innovation is driven by the new — new ideas, new situations, new environments, and new perspectives. If you create an environment that never changes and is always the same, you’ll stop innovation dead in its tracks.
· More distractions. Collecting everyone together for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week might seem like it encourages more collaboration, but the reality is that it opens the door to more distractions. More unnecessary meetings pop up, more useless conversations take up time, and more people are called away from their projects to answer questions on unrelated matters.
· No natural response. For most businesses, work comes and goes. There are busy periods and slow periods. Applying a 40-hour structure year-round means your employees will have long periods of boredom in the office, followed by extended bursts that require significant overtime. An ideal work schedule would reflexively accommodate such changes.
Already, some companies are striking new ground for the traditional workweek. Startups, in particular, have adopted some radical new approaches, and they’re turning out just fine. There’s not much data to suggest which new method will be the most efficient or the most productive, but the following alternatives are gaining popularity against their longstanding rival:
· Four-Day and Three-Day Workweeks. Rather than 5 8-hour days, some companies are trying 4 10-hour days or 3 12-hour days. It’s still a structured schedule, but it’s a viable alternative for companies trying to maximize their employees’ productivity.
· Flex-Time. Flex-time has an ambiguous definition, but in most cases it involves employees scheduling their own hours. They work as they see best fit — sometimes that means working earlier, sometimes later, sometimes shorter, and sometimes longer. Implementing this requires a high level of trust in your workers to get things done and work responsibly, but if you trust your workforce and your employees are passionate about what they do, the potential benefits are limitless.
· Working From Home. Working from home has been a controversial employee perk for some time, but many employers swear by it. When working from home, employees are free from the distractions of the office, and they can focus on tasks heads-down to accomplish more work with more autonomy and flexibility.
· Employee Votes. Rather than instituting a company-wide mandate, some businesses are letting their employees decide their own hours on a rotating basis. Often, this means changing things up every few months to compare different approaches against each other.
These are only a handful of possible alternatives to the conventional 40-hour workweek, and your path forward ultimately depends on your company’s culture and how open you are to experimentation and trial and error. One thing is certain: the traditional aspects of the 40-hour workweek are dying, and we must change if we want to increase our productivity and employee satisfaction in the coming years. How you change is up to you, but sticking to the same old formula isn’t going to cut it.