Are We Truly More Productive in an 8-Hour Workday?

By Natasha L. Foreman

Americans are working longer hours and pounding our chests as though it’s something to be proud of, while at the same time we complain about not having time to do the things that we love. In a Fast Company article by Renato Profico, the CEO of Doodle, this concept is explored, as well as a new way of performing in less time. Citing books, articles, and studies, Profico, highlights what many people think but aren’t sure of—that we are actually less productive in an eight-hour shift than we are in a 6-hour or even four-hour shift. The same has been shown to be true when working a four-day workweek versus a five or six-day week.

Are There Loopholes?

Someone could manipulate this practice, finding it as a loophole to convert full-time workers to part-time, paying less and eliminating benefits packages. We have already seen the ways that organizations have belly slithered to reduce their overhead while exploiting their workforce. We have seen the manipulation of work hours and shifts in a week, to stay under the full-time minimum. We have seen the standard set in academic institutions where college professors are being restricted and reduced to working as adjunct faculty so that the college or university does not have to pay benefits and higher salaries. Yes, there are loopholes to this arrangement. Reasonable people are hoping that senior leaders see the loopholes and choose to rise above the common practices and aim with higher character toward a new standard.

What Was That About The Adjunct Loophole?

Oh yes indeed. Read our July 9th blog post that discusses this in great detail.

Same Loophole With Salaried and 1099 Workers

The dilemma adjuncts face is no different than hiring people to be salaried and working them ragged because they are exempt from state and federal hourly caps. You can squeeze out 50, 60, or more hours out of them each week without paying overtime. Or hiring someone to be a 1099 Independent Contractor to avoid paying employment taxes and benefits, yet you manage them just as you would any other employee—which by the way is a violation of employment laws and a great way to have the IRS up your you-know-what!

So is the solution for the adjunct, salaried worker, and 1099 contractor (who get flat-rate pay) to find ways to condense their work days and work weeks, so that there is greater balance and a feeling of a greater reward? Instead of stretching out the day and week, condense it into smaller chunks, freeing up your days—is that possible? It doesn’t solve the loophole the employer can exploit, but it makes it more manageable for the worker.

Focusing on What Matters Most in Less Time

In the book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors note that many of us are being bogged down with waste, distractions, an “always-on” mindset that causes anxiety, and with all of this our stress levels are soaring. What we should be focused on is a less-is-more mantra, where we focus less on the nonsense and more on what matters most. Thereby getting more done in less time.

It’s really simple if you think about it. When given eight hours to complete your daily tasks, you stretch out your day as much as possible, segmenting your tasks so that your entire shift is focused on those tasks. Anything you don’t complete you shuffle over to the next day. However, if you were told that you have four hours to complete your work, you would find yourself hard-pressed to focus and get the work done. Even if that meant you crammed it all in during the last two hours of the four-hour window, which isn’t smart, but it’s doable.

It Depends on The Personality

It’s like the term paper you had to do for school. You were given one-to-two weeks to complete it, but when did you start it and when did you finish? Depending on your personality type and work ethic, you were probably one of these students:

  • A) an early starter who finished early
  • B) an early starter who gets distracted and postpones the work until later
  • C) an early starter who completes the work in chunks over several days
  • D) waits a few days and then does the work little by little over several days
  • E) last minute, adrenaline junkie, who burns the midnight oil trying to get the work done

You are probably this same way now. When told that you have a report or presentation for work, how do you manage your time to meet the deadline? Which of the five examples above most resemble you? Which of those examples do you think could be successful with a four-hour or six-hour workday? Or a four-day workweek? If you said A, C, or E, then you’re right.

Managing These Personality Types

The A person will probably get their work done in three hours or less and have plenty time to spare. That extra time gives them the opportunity to check their work, focus on other lower priority tasks, help other teammates, or begin a new set of tasks that have a future due date.

The C person is most likely prioritizing their work, and breaking it up into manageable chunks, so that they can finish everything. They too have good time management skills.

The E person will be distracted the first hour or two, but then cram and get their work done with only seconds to spare—if any. They feed off of the adrenaline rush that comes from knowing they risk failure. This doesn’t mean the E person will be successful most of the time. Their procrastination will get the best of them the majority of the time. They are also prone to higher anxiety and stress, but it is self-inducing because of their propensity to procrastinate. So negative consequences will have to be their learning tool to redirect them to the desired course of action, and a positive intervention through coaching and counseling will help them to find healthier ways to get that rush they crave.

The A personality can also be prone to high stress and anxiety, and you might find them struggling with a “perfection” complex. So coaching and counseling can help them focus more on excellence and less on perfection, focus on doing their part well and not thinking that they are carrying the weight of everyone’s work. This is especially true if they are a member of a team. They may have a tendency to think they are responsible for carrying the entire team on their back, even if they aren’t designated a team leader. You can start seeing control issues flowing in and causing havoc.

The B and D personalities will drag out the day and drag out the workweek, getting less done. They can be your less productive and lower performing. It’s not to say that their work is below standards, because that does not have to be the case. It’s just that you won’t be getting the fruits of their labor earlier in the shift or week. It will be towards the end, closer to deadline. The A, C and E personalities could very well provide sub-standard work. I’ve seen this as a college professor, where I have some students who are the first to submit an assignment and I can tell it was rushed and not well planned. I could tell they just wanted to get it over with. That’s the A personality types, start early and finish early. I have also had students who turn in the assignment with minutes to spare before deadline. The work looks rushed. It looks like they started an hour or two before the deadline. Some of them even admit to it, they send messages apologizing for their lackluster performance. It’s like a rambling and cramming of words. Reading it is frustrating. But it is something that I see a lot with the E personality types, more so than the B’s.

There are of course some outliers, myself included, who procrastinate, but hone in so intently their skills and energy, that they crank out a piece of work that you think they spent the entire week creating. But I too have to admit that the amount of stress I take on is not healthy and it’s ignorant. Knocking it out in a few hours proves that I, just like them, could have completed the work sooner. We just prioritized something else over “this”, until the reality of failing “this” became unbearable. That may slide with small things but high priority, high risk projects, deals, proposals, should not be gambled with by this mindset. The risk and reward needs to be clearer and more prevalent to help redirect the E personality types.

If you can train someone to produce work that meets or exceeds standards, and do so in less time than they are accustomed to, you provide them with more free time to focus on other lower priority tasks, or have that free time to do the things they love. But how does that work in an environment where your organization’s leaders expect you to work overtime with little to no reward for your efforts? Or you’re expected to participate in meetings, respond to emails and text messages, and take phone calls—during your off-days, vacations, and sick days—how can a less-is-more protocol work?

Oh The Meetings

According to Profico’s article, employees are actually less productive in meetings, getting less work done, because during that one-to-two hours you’re sitting there listening to other people speak, what exactly are you accomplishing on your task list? Those workers who risk doing work when they are expected to be giving their undivided attention to the meeting, are of course risking some level of humiliation by their peers or leaders. What was interesting to read was the feedback from a 2019 survey by Doodle where executives admitted to seeing their peers texting, sleeping, taking selfies, leaving the room to take other calls, and as mentioned earlier—working on other tasks.

Of course we also need to address something about meetings. Some of you are hosting meetings that are longer than they need to be. Have you ever been in a meeting and said to yourself, “This all could have been said in an email or memo”? If you felt that way then it’s most likely true. Have you sat in a meeting and wondered to yourself, “Does so-and-so just like to hear themselves speak?” you aren’t alone. Profico cited Microsoft Japan’s experiment with the four-day workweek and they reduced their traditional 60-minute meetings down to 30 minutes, and limited meeting participants to no more than five people. Condensing time and the number of participants means you can focus on the most important and limit the monopolization of time. But how does that work in the United States where we are so ingrained to do more, more more, while we crave freedom from the workplace?

How Do We Do It?

How does that work in a society that struggles with disconnecting from work during our off-days? How do we reprogram people who have been taught that the only way for them to make it to the top is to work like a maniac? For so many people, their co-workers have become a second family that actually spend more time with them than their actual family. Think about that. You are spending upwards of 12 hours per day, five or six days per week with a group of people. It takes you 20 to 60 minutes to get to work and 20 to 60 minutes to return home. That can be 14 hours of your day away from home. You are probably only spending four hours with your family at home. The rest of your time is spent bathing and sleeping. During your off days you are trying to decompress from your work week. Unless of course you find yourself working from home, responding to emails and text messages, and answering work calls. Then you’re never truly off work. If you think that the only way to be relevant, to compete, to be visible, to be seen as a “team player” is to give every minute of yourself to the company, then you will sacrifice time for self and family. Even though you know your company could lay you off, fire you, demote you, reassign you, or choose to never really promote you—but you sacrifice anyway. How do you reprogram that mindset, that behavior, that practice?

It starts at the top of your company. Your senior leaders must walk the walk, pave the way, lay the foundation and don’t deviate. If you truly want healthier workers then you must invest in them in more ways than a health benefits package or increasing their salary. If they are overworked, anxious, stressed, and increasingly calling out sick, then your leadership team has lost focus on what is most important. You have no company without your workers. There is no profit without their efforts. You can’t fulfill the mission if there’s no one passionately putting in the work. And for those who are traditionalists and inflexible to this level of change, consider this—think of how profitable you could be with a workforce that is healthy, focused, and more productive.

We Get What We Give Our Workers

When we keep trying to get cheap labor we shouldn’t be surprised when we get mediocre results. When we keep short-changing our employees we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re left holding an empty bag. When we keep abusing our workers we shouldn’t be surprised when they walk away. As my friend Marta used to say, “When you pay peanuts you get monkeys”, and I agree. You create a circus environment because you undervalue the people who are making the magic happen. It should not surprise business owners that people would rather be unemployed than come work for a company that only wants to pay them at or below poverty-level wages. It shouldn’t surprise you that there are people who never received unemployment and they aren’t rushing to apply for minimum wage jobs. People are realizing their value or they always knew it, they just never felt empowered to flex their muscles. This pandemic has put them in a position to say, “If you’re willing to sacrifice me and mine, then I’m wiling to sacrifice your beloved company, which means that you and yours will also suffer”.

There’s not that many companies willing to pay the same rate for less hours worked. They will want to pay eight hours for eight hours, not an eight hour wage for four hours worked. Some won’t even want to pay eight hours of wages for six hours worked. They can’t fathom paying it even though they know they aren’t and will never pay a person what they are worth. Is anyone truly paid what they are worth? Even many CEOs would say they aren’t paid what they think they are worth. They accept the pay that they think the company can bear without much public scrutiny. Many of us know that there’s not that many senior leaders who will choose to offer benefits to part-time workers. There’s not that many who are willing to reduce their profit margin a smidge just so their workers can have a living wage, and stop living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet. But kudos to those who do and those who are realigning to do so. Kudos to those who put people before profits, who understand that by investing in their people the profits will far exceed anything they ever imagined. To the rest, well, the corporate graveyard has a spot waiting for you.

Sources:

Foreman & Associates, LLC (9 July 2021). The Contractual Loopholes Haunting College Faculty https://foremanassociates.wordpress.com/2021/07/09/the-contractual-loopholes-haunting-college-faculty/

Profico, R. (15 Jan, 2020). To get more done in four six-hour workdays, do these three things. https://www.fastcompany.com/90451712/to-get-more-done-in-four-6-hour-workdays-do-these-three-things?

Copyright 2021. Foreman & Associates, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s