Microsoft recently made news on the 4-day work week front. Workers in their Japan office took Fridays off for a month. They tracked productivity metrics and overhead costs like electricity and pages printed. Productivity increased by 40% while cost savings were seen across the board.
The has re-sparked the debate surrounding the 40-hour week, and how hours worked correlates with productivity. Here’s why the answer isn’t so black and white, and how management and workflow processes can have a greater impact.
The Microsoft program is the latest from a worldwide trend. Amazon, Google, and Deloitte have experimented with four-day workweeks. The labour party in England recently announced a measure to reduce the number of working hours in a week. Citing, “the average full-time working week fell from nearly 65 hours in the 1860s to 43 hours in the 1970s.” France has operated with a 35-hour workweek since 2000. In America, the 40-hour workweek dates back to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. A time when almost all labor laws were based on the plight of factory workers and hard labor.
It’s fair to wonder why we’ve stuck with the 40-50 hour week despite the advancement of technology and the change in the nature of our work.
However, detractors of this concept argue the four-day workweek is nothing more than compression. A shorter amount of time to get the same amount of work done might help with focus and staying on task but could bring stress, just like extended hours. Another negative possibility is that companies are pushing for the shorter work week with the goal of reducing the cost of benefits and insurance by shifting employees to part-time.
There’s an abundance of evidence that hours worked does not equal productivity on a 1:1 basis. Boston University research found managers at a consultancy couldn’t decipher between employees working 80-hour weeks and those pretending to.
If people work to the point where they’re missing family time and hobbies, their happiness will inevitably go down along with productivity. A Oxford Business School study found a 13 percent productivity difference with sales teams. Long hours lead to less sleep which makes it harder to concentrate throughout the day.
However, this side of the argument has its drawbacks. Being strategic about breaks, exercise and diet counteracts the effects of lack of sleep and long hours. Millions of Americans work more than 40-hour weeks without significant health issues or drops in happiness.
When it comes to the 4-day work week argument, the answer is it depends. There’s a clear picture when it comes to what hurts productivity during the day, regardless of hours worked.
Meetings - Redundant or drawn-out meetings are draining. Especially when the meeting contains repeated information, doesn’t clarify or drags on unexpectedly. The research supporting this is clear.
Chat - Chat is instrumental for sealing cracks within the collaboration process. Real-time answers save hours or days of confusion and misalignment. At the same time, this reliance on chat creates the well-documented distractions and breaks of focus throughout the day. This type of conversation is overvalued as teams can’t share critical details and context with short-from messages.
Both of these cut down on the amount of deep focus time during the day. Cal Newport wrote a book on this topic, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, based on a lifetime of research.
To summarize, the following is true:
There’s evidence that shorter workweeks increase productivity, but the status quo won’t change anytime soon, if at all.
We also know that 80+ hour work weeks don’t produce 80-hour results, but this hasn’t stopped millions of people from doing so despite mounting research. Expectations carry more weight than academic studies, for Americans especially.
Lastly, we know that any workplace with too many meetings, too many “knock brushes” and not enough focused time and team harmony will struggle to get things done.
Document requests, reviews and managing with long-form writing is directly related to addressing these issues.
Happiness through harmony - We discussed the productivity impact that happiness can bring, this isn’t always tied to work hours. When teams are on the same page, it cuts down on stress and reduces tension. Some people get energy from constant collaboration while some need long periods of focus, the document review system caters to both.
Reliable timelines and schedules - A common factor for extended hours and unhappy workers is unrealistic timelines, deadlines, and miscommunication. Writing and reviewing documents allows teams to get a deeper understanding of operations. Teams can also communicate across department lines before projects start to eliminate eleventh-hour delays.
Limiting interruptions - Writing and reading documents seems time-consuming at first, but saves time by cutting down on unnecessary distractions. Coordination is mapped out so teams can plan their days accordingly, and get their work done despite the number of allotted hours.