In today’s workplace, it’s even harder than ever to be productive.
In fact, over a third of employees admitted they’re productive for less than 30 hours a week in a recent study we conducted with more than 3,500 workers.
That’s a whole day each week that they’re in work, but not working.
Yet, as productivity continues to dip, the hours we work are creeping up. Many people are working beyond the average 40-hour week.
Overworking is not solving the global productivity crisis. Despite people spending longer at work, it isn’t getting more done.
Is there a correlation? Can employees get more done by working less?
Here’s five reasons why working less might mean getting more done.
1. Parkinson’s Law: ‘Working longer hours doesn’t increase efficiency’
Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’.
Whether you’ve been conscious of it or not, we’ve all experienced Parkinson’s Law.
At university, you may have had all term to write an essay yet ended up cramming in the last 48 hours and submitted your paper minutes before the deadline.
Or you have had an important presentation to make at the end of the month and end up compiling the slides the night before.
The task always gets completed because we power through to meet that ‘now urgent’ deadline.
The way our brains are wired means that the longer we have to complete a task, the more time we have to procrastinate and overthink the task, often just filling that time with stress and anxiety about having to get it done.
By assigning less time to a task, our brains don’t see it as such a huge piece of work, enabling us to focus more quickly and hunker down to the task in hand.
2. Working to the point of exhaustion leads to mistakes
We all know that when we’re tired we’re not quite at the top of our game; but people close to burnout or suffering from exhaustion will make errors.
They also don’t have the same control over their emotional health so may make rash decisions or not make a decision quickly enough, something which can cost the business with a missed opportunity.
This concept of overworking leading to errors dates back to the factory floor in the 19th century.
Factory owners learned to limit workdays to eight hours so that they could reduce expensive mistakes and accidents that frequently occurred when employees were made to work nine, ten, or even more hours per day.
Henry Ford famously took a radical step in 1914 of doubling his workers’ pay but cutting their shifts from nine hours to eight hours a day.
Although initially criticised for the move, his competitors soon followed suit when they saw production rise and profits boosted at Ford, along with less employee incidents on the shop floor.
3. Six-hour days result in less sick days
In the Swedish city of Gothenburg, a two-year trial of a six-hour working day at a care home for elderly people proved that a shorter working day lowered sick leave by 10%.
Other perceived health benefits of the care workers were reductions in stress and increased alertness.
The residents at the care home also reported that they felt they were getting better care and more time with the nurses.
Healthier employees will have more energy and be more motivated to do their job versus overworked, stressed, exhausted employees who will have less energy and motivation, and ultimately take longer to do a task because they lack the same level of alertness that someone working shorter days has.
Overworked people tend to eat more, stress more, and exercise less; if this becomes a continuous cycle it can create myriad underlying health issues.
4. Our brains aren’t wired for more than four hours of serious focus a day
According to science, four hours of work a day is the maximum our brains can handle. We are talking proper, serious, focused work; not just sitting in meetings or sending emails.
Former Silicon Valley strategy consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang reached this four-hours-a-day conclusion while researching how famous intellectuals have worked across history for his book, Rest: why you get more done when you work less.
Pang found that many historical figures all had similar lengths of concentration periods, most notably Charles Darwin who worked for two 90-minute periods in the morning, then an hour later on; while mathematician Henri Poincaré from 10am till noon then 5pm till 7pm.
He also drew on studies of violinists that supported the same theory – they would practice for no more than four hours a day.
Pang’s Deliberate Rest blog explores how work and rest are partners; he also shares how he now feels more intelligent and is more productive than when he was working a 15-hour day.
5. Working less equals happier employees
Companies have been demanding more from people over the past decade as technology has advanced to the point where everyone can be available 24-7.
But with the current global skills shortage, it is a job seekers market right now and top talent are starting to demand more from their employer.
They want a great workforce experience; they want to feel motivated, valued and fulfilled at work.
They are seeing their peers and friends working for companies with flexible working, remote working and a stress-free culture and they want the same.
Creating an environment where your people know it’s not acceptable to stay late and be answering emails at 10pm will result in happier and more engaged employees.
Is less more?
Your top talent might be superstars that operate at 110mph every day, but even they will reach burnout after a while.
Employees become less efficient when they feel overworked; stress and exhaustion lead to health issues, decreased output and costly mistakes.
Creating a culture where people don’t feel they have to be seen to be putting in long hours to progress up the career ladder may create a happier, more engaged and more efficient employee.
How many hours did you work this week? Why don’t you try cutting down your hours next week – and see if you reap the rewards in your productivity levels as a result?