The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
The Case For The Six Hour Work Day
In this day and age, most Americans are accustomed to working well over eight hours per day. Companies often demand that employees be available around the clock, and it’s not uncommon for emails to fly back and forth in the middle of the night. Simply put, work never seems to stop.
While this may seem like the norm, recent research suggests that eight plus hour work days are not nearly as productive as employers once assumed. In fact, longer workday can be attributed to burnout, higher turnover, unengagement and long-term unproductivity. Research now shows six hour work days may be the sweet spot for optimal worker productivity.
According to research 40 percent of adults work 50 or more hours per week. Eighteen percent put in an excess of 60 hours. Why the long, ever increasing hours? Unfortunately there are no rules or regulations for salaried employees, and they are expected to work however long it takes to complete the task at hand.
But this could all change soon. Researchers in Sweden have suggested that a six hour work day can actually boost productivity, reduce burnout, and decrease absentee rates.
Another recent study suggested that employee output begins to drastically diminish when employees hit the 48 hour per week mark. Numerical data on plant workers in Great Britain during the first World War also showed that long hours often led to high stress, unhappiness, and fatigue. This not only reduces productivity, it also makes it more likely that workers will make errors or suffer potentially serious accidents. To learn more about the benefits of a six-hour workday, check out this academic resource created by Ohio University’s Online MBA program.
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WORKING HOURS: THE SIX-HOUR WORKDAY
The majority of full-time employees in the United States are reportedly working an average 47 hours on a weekly basis. This translates to almost a full workday longer in comparison to a standard 9-to-5 weekly schedule that runs from Monday through to Friday. Some reports have even found that nearly 40 percent of adults work at least 50 hours per week.
A number of federal employment laws recognize the 40-hour workweek as standard, including the Affordable Care Act. However, only 8 percent of full-time workers are reportedly are logging less than 40 hours. These stats were revealed by a survey conducted by Gallup. The total number of hours worked by employees in various sectors can be an indication of many key factors. For some workers, the hours are linked to personal gumption while others work according to a function of their pay structure.
In many cases, employers often restrict hourly workers to a particular amount of work time to avoid paying overtime. On the other hand, salaried employees are not faced with this problem.
For some American workers, the workweek is extended because they are taking additional jobs. Data released by Gallup shows that 12 percent of employees have two jobs while only 1 percent has more than two. Yet, the average number of hours worked by people having one job still goes beyond the standard 40 hours.
Productivity versus total working hours
Experts say the 40-hour working week is not based on the ideal total hours humans can work productively. Although the eight hours per day is reasonable when compared to work hours in the late 18th century. Workers were expected to log up to 16 hours. This was aimed at sustaining the round-the-clock operating requirements of most factories. However, it later became clear that such long working hours were unsustainable. It was rather inhumane and counter-productive.
In 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the initiative by cutting working hours to eight and doubled workers salaries. As a result, the company witnessed increased productivity. Workers are more focused and productive when well rested. The human brain tends to work optimally when taking 15-minute breaks after an hour of work.
For today’s workers, there is hope that a disruption in workday hours may be on the horizon. According to research, the average worker is productive for almost three hours when committed to an 8-hour day. A wide variety of unproductive activities disrupt workers’ concentration levels. These include smoking breaks, visiting social media sites, making food at work, eating, reading news websites, searching for jobs and more.
Most workers are interrupted every three minutes. Meanwhile, it has been revealed that employees can take an average of 23 minutes to return to productive tasks after being interrupted.
Sweden and the US working hours: A comparison
A considerable number of employees in Sweden are spending less time working. The switch did not come with a pay cut. As can be expected, this allows them to become more productive. It has been proven that when workers switch to a six-hour day, there is a marked reduction in absenteeism, worker health in addition to improved productivity. Human resources experts say the concept of a shorter working day is only effective when the workers stay focused for the entire six hours.
Unlike in Sweden, workers in the United States are considerably overworked and stressed. Researchers at Stanford University have linked longer working hours to sleep deprivation and increased stress.
Meanwhile, some analysts are convinced that the 6-hour working day model will not work in America because the 8-hour day concept is deeply embedded in the local system. Many workers are used to the longer working week and may not be willing to switch to a shorter day since their livelihood depends on it.
On the other hand, some companies in Sweden are maximizing productivity by reducing distractions in the workplace. Workers are not permitted to visit social media sites and office meetings are kept at a minimum.
The shorter day is a sure-fire way to ensure that employees still have some energy to pursue social activities after work. This can be difficult when workers spend more time in the workplace. Some doctors and nurses in Sweden are taking full advantage of the six-hour day. As a result, they are highly motivated, which helps improve service delivery and patient outcomes.
In Sweden, the concept of a shorter working week first came under review between 1989 and 2005. Home care service entities experimented with the six-hour day model. The trial did not yield favorable response from commercial entities at the time but the practice is now increasingly taking root.
Organizations in many countries, including the United States are reluctant to adopt the shorter day. They are worried that levels of productivity might suffer despite research evidence to the contrary. Human resources experts are predicting Swedish success stories will eventually lead to the globalization of the six-hour day.
The British economist, John Maynard Keynes is on record as having predicted that technological advancements will lead to shorter working days. He forecasted that by 2030 workers would be able to enjoy abundant leisure time. Herman Khan, who predicted that Americans would eventually enjoy 13 weeks of vacation in addition to a four-day week, supported Keynes’ views.
The bottom line
In the United States, a number of organizations are experimenting with a four-day workweek. Even though the workers still spend eight hours per day in the workplace, employees are much happier and motivated by the prospect of long weekends. The US has witnessed a considerable reduction in the total number of full-time workers since 2007.
Meanwhile, the average hours that full-time employees work on a weekly basis has largely stayed the same between 2003 and 2016. Part-time workers have averaged roughly 25 hours each week. However, the average hours tend change a lot more when compared to full-timers.
In the end, taking frequent breaks is a smarter way to ensure that employees stay focused, creative and more productive.