Last November, a New Zealand financial services company switched its 240-person team from a five-day to a four-day workweek. Now, the company has released results of a study showing that when the workweek was shortened, stress decreased, productivity increased – and, unsurprisingly, workers’ feelings of work-life balance skyrocketed.
This experiment has added a question mark over something our modern economy has tended to take for granted: the five-day workweek. In the last 24 hours, Fast Company has published 5 Tips to Help You Convert Your Company to a Four-Day Workweek, and Fortune has put out its own list of pointers to help companies ditch a work day.
This questioning of the 40-hour workweek is probably long overdue. In the United States, the eight-hour workday has been around since the 1800s, when our economy looked a lot different than it does now. After plugging along with this setup for a century and half, maybe it’s time to evaluate whether the 40-hour workweek is still the best way of meeting our goals.
But there’s a more general point here: giving employees flexibility, autonomy, and a work environment that makes them feel good can do wonders.
People aren’t computers – if you double their workday, for example, they aren’t going to get twice as much work done. We all know that spending 40 hours a week at work is not the same as spending 40 hours a week working.
The idea that sometimes exerting less control over employees gives better results is especially relevant when it comes to employees who have ADHD or similar conditions. In many cases, these people have a better sense than their bosses of what conditions will maximize their productivity.
I’m not just talking about the length of the workweek anymore. I’m talking about things like taking breaks at work, listening to music while you work, doing tasks in the order you choose, or even working remotely.
Flexible work hours are another area where there’s lots of potential for a win-win that makes employees happier and increases their productivity. One of the tips for moving to a four-day work week is to let employees choose which day they take off. I think there’s room for more flexibility in what time of day people do their work, too, because different people are more productive at different times.
Some people with ADHD who have an especially high need for flexibility in how they organize their work environment achieve this by becoming self-employed or becoming entrepreneurs, so they can “be their own boss.” This path does give you independence in how you organize your workweek although it won’t necessarily make your workweek shorter!
There are plenty of situations where this kind of flexibility could be brought into more traditional work environments. In general terms, that’s what the latest experiment with the four-day work week is getting at – we shouldn’t take the 9-5, five-days-a-week model for granted any more. I have a feeling that companies willing to make innovations in how their employees work will be rewarded with more alertness and commitment from employees in general – and especially from employees such as those with ADHD who have a high need for flexibility in their work environment.
Image: Flickr/heather buckley