Microsoft Japan announced the results of its four-day workweek experiment--where 2,300 employees got to take every Friday off. The result?
This finding raises a lot of questions about the way we work, how much time we spend working, and when we work. An eight-hour workday, for example, is currently the standard. And in many companies, that’s far below the average number of hours employees spend working.
In fact, I interview leaders and employees all over the world. Many salaried employees proudly attest to working 10 or even 12-hour days. Those numbers might be a stretch from the truth. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average office worker in America clocks in at 8.8 hours each day.
Some of you reading this might chuckle at a mere 8.8 hours. Some leaders actually might see it as a insult to the old slogan, “If you want more, you’re going to have to put in your time.”
Putting in your time has value, unless that time is actually marginalizing your performance. For example, let me ask you a question where there is no right or wrong answer, only a true answer. Do you get paid for your time at work, or, do you get paid for the value you create at work? Different roles will answer that question differently. However, more and more of you will answer, “I get paid by the value I create.”
So, if we get paid for results, why is the five-day workweek and eight-hour workday still the norm?
Recent research is actually asking the same question, but for slightly different reasons. A study conducted by VoucherCloud.com surveyed 1,989 office workers over the age of 18 to discover online habits of employees at work. And, while the study did uncover a lot about how employees use the internet, it also discovered something many leaders might find unsettling–that the average employee only spends two hours and 53 minutes being productive. The rest of the day, according to respondents, consisted of things like checking social media (44 minutes), making personal phone calls (18 minutes), and searching for new jobs (26 minutes).
I just mentioned a few of the ways employees admitted they were spending their time. If you’re a leader, none of these mentioned sound too surprising. However, there was one portion of the study I did find a bit unnerving.
The survey asked respondents if they thought they could avoid these distractions throughout the day. And a full 65 percent of those who responded claimed they could not avoid them, because these distractions make their work “more bearable.”
This finding, although it makes sense, made me ask the question, “Why is the workday unbearable?” While I’d be interested in discovering every reason, maybe it’s time that we, as leaders, start grappling with the bigger picture–that we live and work in an era that needs to change the how, when, and how long we work. How can we move into the future?
1. Measure value. Forget time.
With every role in an organization, comes an expectation of value creation. This is how, and why, we assign budgets to titles. But, as technology continues to advance, more companies should be enabling employees to perform their work from wherever they want to do it, whenever they want to do it, and in any amount of time it requires them to do it.
Let’s get real. Why do we care how employees are spending their time as long as their value created exceeds your cost? Still seem frightening? Research from Stanford shows employees who are allowed to work remotely are more productive. They’re less likely to leave, and they save their organization money.
2. Focus on experience. Delegate engagement.
I know, the words ’employee engagement’ have been the buzz for the past two decades. But, consider this, engagement is a choice of the employee. It means they give their discretionary effort. You can’t force it. You can’t demand it.
Nevertheless, you can focus on providing the best employee experience possible that makes them want to choose to engage in their work. In fact, your company and culture is a product of the shared values of your employees. Ask what they need from you, instead of giving them what you think they need from you.
3. Be Honest About Burnout.
The 8-hour workday might make sense if your job is to watch for product defects. But in today’s world of information overload, 8-hours of constant focus is too much–day after day, week after week. In fact, a global study reveals that 79 percent of employees are suffering from mild, moderate, or severe burnout. Burnout is real. It’s not only one of the leading causes of turnover, but as we learned from Microsoft Japan’s study, obviously a cause of reduced productivity.
Our work has changed. And to accompany that change, the way we work, the why we work, and the when and how much we work also needs to change. If less hours actually increases productivity, maybe it’s time we all start learning how to stay away.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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