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What’s Your Employer’s Philosophy: Work to Live or Live to Work?

In 2006, Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson decided to give employees of the Portland, Oregon-based technology education company three-day weekends every week, arguing that living to work instead of working to live is not the best (or at least only) key to a company's profitability and overall success. But, that doesn't mean that his decision was motivated solely by a desire to be a more humane boss. Employers making similar decisions are just as interested in the bottom line as they are in making workers' lives better. It turns out, working less sometimes means producing more – and better – work.

In 2006, Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson decided to give employees of the Portland, Oregon-based technology education company three-day weekends every week, arguing that living to work instead of working to live is not the best (or at least only) key to a company’s profitability and overall success. But, that doesn’t mean that his decision was motivated solely by a desire to be a more humane boss. Employers making similar decisions are just as interested in the bottom line as they are in making workers’ lives better. It turns out, working less sometimes means producing more – and better – work.

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(Photo Credit: Julia Caesar/Unsplash)

Allowing workers to have a life outside of the office instead of forcing them to cram 47 hours of work into five days (the average American workweek, according to Gallup), means higher quality work during the 32 hours that they are there. 

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“The intangible benefits that we’ve seen are priceless,” Carson told The Atlantic in a recent video interview. “I think that when people aren’t overworked, the chance for that light bulb or that epiphany moment or whatever you want to call it to go off, is increased.”

“I’m not going to be at my [#$@!] keyboard at 9 p.m. on a Friday night because there’s no life there,” he added.

Given that Treehouse effected the unconventional model nearly a decade ago and is still in business, the company has shown that chaining employees to their desks is not the only way to succeed. 

“We’ve proven that you can take it from an experiment into something that’s doable for real companies and real people in highly competitive markets,” he says. 

Lose One Workday, Gain 204 Percent in Revenue?

And Carsen is not the only advocate.

Latin American search engine co-founder Cristian Rennella’s company elMejorTrato.com has increased its annual revenue by 204 percent since implementing a four-day work week five years ago. 

“We know we have Friday off, so we can be more productive because we know we have to focus,” Rennella told ThinkProgress.

37Signals co-founder Jason Fried similarly implemented a 32-hour-a-week at his software company between the months of May and October since 2012. Fried discussed the positive results in an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times.

“[B]etter work gets done in four days than in five,” he wrote. “When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

Quality of Life Improves Quality of Work

Numerous high-profile public figures have also advocated for a higher quality of life in relation to work and careers. 

Media mogul Arianna Huffington, for example, has repeatedly gone on the record to opine the importance of making sleep a priority. 

“It makes a huge difference,” The Huffington Post  founder and editor-in-chief, who average eight hours of Zzzs per night, told CBS This Morning. “I find it makes me much more productive, much more effective.”

President Obama recently announced a proposed rule from the Department of Labor in which guaranteed overtime would extend to approximately five million white collar workers.

“Middle class economics means that a hard day’s work should lead to a fair day’s pay,” reads the White House press release.

Work-Life Balance Is an Exception, Not a Rule

Others with high-powered careers have made similar arguments for a healthy work life/balance in different ways, some even from within the ranks of companies with opposing models.

An unidentified Amazon employee, for example, issued a series of warnings to the company’s incoming interns in an anonymous post on Reddit:

“You are smart, driven, and are no doubt going to be successful in whatever you do, which is why I want to urge you to STAY THE [#$@!] AWAY FROM Amazon…,” the employee wrote. 

“Amazon’s work life balance is awful,” he continued, citing the company’s average two-year employee turnover as one of several reasons why interns shouldn’t work for his company.

“The entire system is designed to bring you in, burn you out, and send you on your way with as little equity lost as possible…. So why throw yourself into an environment that is designed to chew you up and spit you out.”

He goes on to encourage any visiting interns to maximize their summer intern experience outside of the office in addition to inside of it. 

“Work hard but don’t spend all night working. Leave at 5 or 6PM and go enjoy the city while you are here. While you are in the office pay close attention to the happiness and job satisfaction of your team mates.” 

Tell Us What You Think 

Do you have an opinion to add to the work-life debate? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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