Why shorter days, not weeks, could be the answer to work-life balance
Companies continue to experiment with different working models, and for some, that’s not a four-day week but compressed six-hour workdays.
Experts say it can be a more feasible option for companies who can’t afford to have no one online on Fridays, while still giving their employees a more flexible schedule, at the same salary.
“When we talk about people working for companies eight hours a day, are they productive throughout the day?,” said Dr. Mansoor Soomro, innovation and enterprise lead at the Future of Work Research Center at the Teesside University International Business School in the U.K. “The answer is no. Our research shows that people are productive at most two-thirds of the day.”
The concept of a six-hour workday has been around for several years. Sweden conducted a two-year test of six-hour workdays across numerous businesses that concluded in 2017. The results: the shortened day gave a productivity boost, improved health, reduced stress and led to more engaged employees.
When it comes to flexible work hours, the conversation has largely pivoted to the idea of a four-day workweek. But some companies have struggled to have all employees off on the fifth day. That’s why some experts are keen to tout the benefits of the six-hour workday as an alternative.
If companies are worried about productivity, and aren’t certain their workers are doing the full eight-hour day, compressing the hours can be a good tradeoff, said Soomro. It can be seen as a perk for candidates considering the job and can also help retain employees who know they can comfortably log off instead of pretending to be working.
With a six-hour workday schedule, the day is usually between either 9 a.m .to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “This ensures better communication and coordination between teams,” said Soomro, rather than everyone choosing any six hour time-period they want.
However, it doesn’t always need to be that way either to work either. Code Heroes, a small Australian tech company, tested a six-hour workday a couple of years ago and has stuck with it ever since. There, the core hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., where everyone works at the same time, and then employees are asked to do the two other hours whenever they’d like.
“Some people do their two other hours early, some people do it in the afternoon,” said Brendt Sheen, CEO and founder. “We’ve have parents who have children and do a couple hours late at night after taking care of their kid. It’s an unusual work pattern, but it gives them the flexibility they need.”
Employees at Code Heroes reported they did nearly 15% more work in six hours than they did in eight.
It’s not always perfect though. Sheen said there are times when deadlines need to be met, which might require more than just six hours in the day. When that happens, he says he specifically asks those employees to do only six hours for the next few days to avoid burnout.
Overall, though, Sheen says the fully-remote team “absolutely loves it,” and that it’s “by far the most effective reward” he’s ever offered his team.
“We’re a relatively small company, and someone will interview with Amazon and Atlassian and these really big known names, and they end up taking a job with me,” said Sheen. “I’m sure a part of that is other things as well … but the six-hour workday is a big part of it.”
Flexibility is a main attraction for job applicants today. It can set one company apart from the next if it means they’re able to dip out to pick up their kids from work, or not feel stressed when going to a doctor’s appointment, for example.
“As there’s a rise in the expectation that employers will be flexible, six-hour workdays seem to be a good fit,” said Soomro. “When a competitor is offering it, and you’re not, that’s what is going to change the game.”
That’s the case for Helen Walker, an employee at Nisa Retail – a groceries wholesaler which has adopted the six-hour workday.
“Being able to take the kids to school and pick them up is invaluable,” said Walker, who is a mom of two. She works 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “I can have a family life outside of work.”
It’s a good alternative for companies that want to do something different and offer a unique benefit but maybe aren’t able to completely get rid of one day of work a week. Soomro says it “can be used as a pilot for the four-day workweek.”
Sheen admits that the four-day workweek wouldn’t be a fit for Code Heroes because of their client deadlines and need to respond to people daily. But the six-hour workday has been a nice balance.
“The six-hour workday breaks the 9-to-5 pattern and takes you out from the regular working monitoring of work and performance management,” said Soomro.
With a shorter workday, that means there should also be less meetings, says Soomro. That way productivity can increase because there is time for deeper work.