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Could You Do Your Job in 5 Hours a Day?

Topics: Data & Research
five-hour workday
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Nearly half of employees said that they could do their jobs in five hours a day or less if they were able to work uninterrupted, according to a recent survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated. Pilot programs at companies who’ve experimented with a five-hour workday suggest that they may be right.

Forty-five percent of 3,000 employees in eight countries said that they could do their jobs in five hours or less per day. Nearly three-quarters said that they’d prefer a four-day workweek, if pay remained the same.

Researchers cited what they call “the 40-hour conundrum”: Although 75 percent of full-time employees said that they have enough hours in the day to do their work, 37 percent said that they work more than 40 hours a week. And, 71 percent said that “work interferes with their personal lives.”

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Where Does the Time Go?

Eighty-six percent of respondents said that they waste time on tasks unrelated to their job, while 40 percent said that they “lose an hour-plus each day on administrative tasks that do not drive value for their organization.”

Over half of individual contributors and 28 percent of managers said that their top task is dealing with clients, which is obviously a value driver and core task for many jobs. However, administrative work and responding to emails were top time commitments for both individual contributors and managers. It’s a good bet that some of that time is less than well-spent.

But the catch may be that workers felt that they could get their jobs done in five hours a day … if they were uninterrupted.

“No interruptions? Yet isn’t work all about interruptions?” asked Leanne Hoagland-Smith at The Chicago Tribune. “Phone calls if you are in sales. How about internal communications to verify documents from time cards to purchase requisitions? Then add in those pesky customers who want those questions answered right now, not later.”

Technology also has the potential to distract us from work, as well as to automate mundane tasks to free up time. When’s the last time you were in a meeting where everyone was paying attention to the task at hand, instead of to their phone or tablet or laptop (and possibly their Facebook/Instagram/Twitter)?

Researchers cited what they call “the 40-hour conundrum”: Although 75 percent of full-time employees said that they have enough hours in the day to do their work, 37 percent said that they work more than 40 hours a week.Click To Tweet

Companies Where a Five-Hour Workday Is the Norm

“Work is everywhere — there are no limits now,” said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, in an interview with Money. “Your job is about the work you do, and less about your location, and the time you spend doing it. That will play out in the coming years.”

Several companies have experimented with reduced schedule, either a shorter workday or a four-day workweek. Money offered the example of Perpetual Garden, a New Zealand-based estate planning firm, which offered its employees a four-day workweek. The result? More productivity, not less, thanks to less wasted time in meetings and casual conversation.

An Australian financial services firm called Collins SBA experimented with a five-hour workday last year, and it “worked so well to date that there are no plans to end it,” said Claudia Parsons, the firm’s operations director, in an interview with Financial Times.

“Sick days have plunged. Talented recruits have been hired. Some advisers have done record levels of new business. Clients did not mind waiting a few hours to see an adviser. The firm’s bottom line seems unaffected,” wrote Pilita Clark at FT.

Could You Make a Five-Hour Workday Work?

Companies that have successfully switched to a shorter workday or workweek seem to have one thing in common: they’ve put the emphasis on production rather than face-time.

At Fast Company, Stephan Aarstol, CEO and founder of Tower Paddle Boards, a beach lifestyle company that piloted a five-hour workday, explained the bargain he made with his team:

In exchange, though, I had a big ask: I needed each of my team members to be twice as productive as the average worker. We had a high bar of productivity to clear before this, and that didn’t change. I told them they just needed to figure out how to do it all in just five hours now–but there’d be support: we’d all need to figure it out and were in this together. If anybody couldn’t, though, they’d be fired. The pressure was real, but so was the incentive to meet the challenge; their workweek had suddenly become better than many people’s vacation weeks.

Aarstol described the results as “astonishing.” Their annual revenues increased 40 percent and the company made the Inc 5,000 list of America’s fastest growing companies.

So, if you can convince your employer to try a similar experiment, your first job is to figure out what parts of your job aren’t really necessary. That might mean shorter meetings, less watercooler chitchat or increasingly automated administrative work. It will definitely mean doing your part by staying off your social media and putting your head down while you’re at the office.

The increased focus and pace would be worth it, though. As Aarstol wrote at Business Insider, “…when you can leave the office at 1 p.m. to go surfing or pick your kids up from school, work isn’t separate from life; it’s all just living.”

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your ideal work schedule? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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