The benefits of a five-hour workday have been put to the test by a technology consulting firm in Germany as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal. Time-wasting activities such as responding to emails were restricted and using social media was eliminated. Other changes introduced, when reducing the workday to five hours, included banning office conservations of small talk and severely limiting the time spent in meetings.
Business Insider reported that when Rheingans Digital Enabler tested a five-hour workday, it allowed workers to only check company email twice each day and for a limited period. They also prohibited workers from having their smartphones at work. There was no use of social media allowed or any personal communication through phone calls, text messages, instant messages, or emails. Meetings were limited to a maximum of 15 minutes.
Flextime Potential in the U.S.
Flexible work options, while they are increasing in popularity in Europe, are still not widespread in the United States. The Manpower Group reports that only about 23% of American-based companies have flextime positions and/or working from home options.
New studies indicate that there may be significant benefits by designing work efforts for shorter daily amounts and allowing flextime arrangements. Many jobs are converting to the “gig” economy with the pay commensurate with the measured output, not the amount of time spent.
Online work-monitoring systems can be applied to remote workers that have a time-dependent component embedded into their work effort. These online systems track activity and require less human supervision, which makes them easier to manage.
Research shows that productivity improves by getting rid of smartphones in the workplace, reducing overworking, and creating a significantly better work-life balance overall.
Smartphones Not Allowed in the Workplace
A study conducted by the University of Texas in Austin discovered that the mere presence of a smartphone in the room with the test subjects lowered their results on intelligence tests, memory tests, and attention tests. The smartphone caused this effect, simply if it was visible. It did not need to be turned on and did not need to belong to the test subjects to have a negative effect. The mere presence of the smartphone in the room was detrimental.
Overworking and Sleep Deprivation
A study reported by Business Insider showed that going without sleep for 22 hours had a similar effect to having a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is past the legal limit for operating a vehicle in most states. Productivity is not increased by overworking. Productivity increases by taking breaks and maintaining stable blood sugar levels by snacking.
Improving Work-Life Balance
Employees in the United States work more hours than workers in most developed nations. This may be the reason why approximately half of the entire American workforce feels that work has harmed their mental health. A shorter workday reduces the serious problem of employee burnout. It allows for more family time and produces a better quality of life for employees and their employers.
The Downsides to a Five-Hour Workday
Employers know that a lot of time is wasted by employees at work. A shorter work period, without distractions, encourages better time management and promotes concentration. However, Forbes reported that employees complain that they have to do the same amount of work in less time and this feels like intense pressure. They also have trouble adjusting to not being able to talk with friends and family while at work.
Another big problem is having the staff available to serve the needs of clients. If everyone goes home early, who is there in the late afternoon to handle a client’s call? Perhaps, in this case, companies would explore the option of 5-hour shifts for some positions allowing some employees to work in the morning and others to work in the afternoon or evening.
A shorter workday of five hours may work extremely well for jobs that can be monitored and regimented with performance benchmarks. When the job output can be counted in units of some kind, then shorter, concentrated work efforts, with fewer distractions, could certainly create productivity increases.
However, human beings are not automated machines. Some amount of social interaction is a necessary part of modern work life. Perhaps a mixture of regular workdays of eight hours with some flexible days and some shorter workdays of five hours long would produce a better overall result.