Some people think work days should line up with the six-hour school day to ease the load on working parents. This would be nice, but perhaps it’s not very realistic.
Conversations around shifting work hours are common these days. Whether it’s a four-day work week, unlimited annual leave or flexible hours/ work locations – it’s clear there’s an appetite for shaking up traditional practices and trying something new.
In theory, all these changes sound great. They could answer many workplace problems, such as: increased absenteeism, employee burnout and an unengaged workforce, but in practice, some of these suggested changes seem a little far-fetched.
A recent article from The Atlantic, discussing the disconnect between school and work hours, is the latest commentary to be added to the mountain of content around shifting workplace structures.
“This mismatch between school and workday, a relic of a bygone era and outdated family norms, has left parents and school districts scrambling to find a solution,” says the article’s author Kara Voght.
Wharton professor Adam Grant shared his thoughts on the article via a LinkedIn post, stating: “It’s crazy that the school day ends two hours before the work day. But instead of making school days longer, let’s make work days shorter: they should finish at 3pm. We can be as productive and creative in six focused hours as in eight unfocused hours.”
Sure, there may be some people that are able to tick off all their daily tasks in just six hours, if they’re extremely diligent in their time management planning, but what about those that rely on an hourly pay rate or shift workers? Clearly this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and perhaps it’s not intended to be, but for those that do fit the bill (perhaps white collar professionals), is a six-hour day a viable option?
The effects of cutting out two hours of your day
Changing school hours is not unprecedented. As Voght points out, during World War II school hours were extended to cater for mothers who had to join the workforce in their husbands’ absence. An argument could be made for the benefits of children spending more time at school, but the results of cutting out a chunk of the work day are muddied.
Those progressive Scandinavians often set the tone for the rest of the world when trialing new and innovative workplace initiatives (and some of their ideas are interesting to say the least). In Sweden, testing out the six-hour work day has been on the agenda for some time. According to this BBC article, while it hasn’t been a cheap endeavour, the benefits to some employees are greatly beneficial.
Aged-care nurse Emilie Telander reported feeling as if staff had more energy and were happier during the six-hour day trial and was disappointed at the thought of having to return to an eight hour day at the trial’s conclusion.
However, the benefits don’t seem to extend to all industries. Erik Gatenholm, CEO of a Swedish bio-ink company, said that when he trailed a six hour day with his team he thought it would be fun, but “it felt kind of stressful”.
“I really don’t think that the six-hour day fits with an entrepreneurial world, or the start-up world… It’s a process and it takes time and when you don’t have all that [much] time it kind of feels like skipping homework at school, things are always building up.”
Commenting on Grant’s LinkedIn post, a high school teacher said the idea of comparing school hours with a work day is a fallacy in itself as they are two completely different stages of life that require different levels of time. Another commenter, who works at HSBC in London, suggested that “school days need to be lengthened to working days… with the addition of more [physical education] and breakfast, lunch and dinner for all students. A lot of private schools already do this without sacrificing quality, or results, or pupil wellbeing.”
Another commenter offered a different perspective. “The caveat to this is that parents are part of the process that prepares children for adulthood. If we spend all our attention and energy at work (and commuting) what is left in the tank when it’s time to engage with our children at the end of a long day?”
How do you actually make it happen?
Researchers, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen spent three years studying how workers can be more productive and concluded that it came down to two simple tasks: eliminating non-value adding jobs and delegating work.
According to their research, via the Harvard Business Review, 41 per cent of workers would hold onto jobs that others could easily be doing for them. Cohen and Birkinshaw reported being able to help executives free up a fifth of their time – that’s an entire day per week – by simply encouraging them to “re-think and shift the balance of their work”. To Grant’s point, this is about working smarter so you can work less.
Referring back to the Scandinavian nurse mentioned earlier, the success of that trial may have well been underpinned by the fact that extra staff were hired to pick up the slack. So rather than trying to cram our current eight-hour day into a smaller time frame, which could inevitably cause greater stress, employers should instead think about reconfiguring employee responsibilities and hiring an extra set of hands?
Taking it a step further
As HRM has previously reported, one Australian company has taken things even further, initiating a five hour work day. Tasmanian-based financial services firm Collins SBA introduced this policy last year and while this intense style of working saw them lose two employees, the results were mainly positive. (Read the article for more).
Perhaps this discussion shouldn’t strike up such debate. It’s 2018 and worker’s physical and mental wellbeing is taking centre stage – and maybe six hours really is an appropriate amount of time to carve out for work each day – but the positive results of a handful of trials or articles on the matter won’t be change the way we work overnight. It requires a major and collective shift in the way we think about work.
Do you think you could do all of your work within a six-hour timeframe? What about other roles in your organisation? Share you thoughts in the comment section below.
Image: Miguel Á. Padriñán via Pexels.
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