Navigation mobile icon
Mobile navigation close window icon
Capabilities icon
what we do
Expand section icon
additional services to ask about:
talent strategy & development
employee engagement & retention
total rewards
change strategy & enablement

Is the 5-Hour Workday the Answer to All Our Problems?

Of all the theories that aim to engender better work-life balance, the five-hour workday is one of the most compelling.

In the classic song “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton sings,“They got you where they want you, there's a better life and you think about it, don't you?” 

We all think about it: less work, better pay, less work, more play. The song became both a huge hit and an anthem for those trapped in the daily grind.

The film of the same name turns that grind on its head to promote a healthier, happier workplace--what we call “work-life balance.”

What can employers do to foster “a better life” to their employees? What is a company’s responsibility for creating a happier corporate culture? Can big changes in the workday lead to even bigger improvements in productivity--and ultimately, greater profit margins?

Let’s explore one of the myriad theories that champion a better work-life balance for employees: the 5-Hour Workday.  

“9 to 5, what a way to make a living…”

The traditional 9am-5pm workday began in the 1920s with Ford Motor Company’s attempt to improve factory conditions, and became law in 1938, with the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the act only covered about one-fifth of the country’s labor pool, it banned oppressive child labor, set minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and limited the maximum work week to 44 hours. This last standard has been perpetuated in hourly and salaried positions for more than 80 years, despite data demonstrating that the eight-hour workday does not contribute to effective or increased productivity.

Meanwhile, a study published in June of this year analyzed the five-hour workday in Iceland and found that reducing work hours maintained--and in some instances even increased--overall productivity.

“9 to 5, for service and devotion…”

In 2016, Stephan Aarstol published his book,The Five-Hour Workday, about an experiment his company, Tower Paddle Boards, conducted when they implemented an 8am-1pm workday without reducing salaries, in an effort to improve the company culture and foster healthier living for its employees.

Aarstol found that the hours employees worked did not correlate to the quantity or quality of their output, and the immediate results of the new policy included better profits, increased employee satisfaction, and an overall improvement in morale.

So what are the prospective benefits of a shortened workday?

  • Increased focus on tasks - Research has shown that employees are only productive for up to four hours of an eight-hour day, while a 2016 study estimated that the average worker is only productive for up to three hours per day.
  •  
  • Enhanced productivity - Employees focus more on high-value activities rather than meaningless tasks that take too much time.
  • Happier and healthier lifestyles - Employees can  take full advantage of the benefits of a shortened workday, like spending more time with family, exercising, pursuing hobbies, and enrolling in educational programs.
  • Overall improved workplace culture - Happier employees come to work with more positivity and energy that manifests throughout the entire organization.
  • Limited distractions - A shorter workday means shorter, more focused, less frequent meetings. Personal calls and texts were also less frequent during work hours.
  • Reduced absences - Employees are less likely to get  sick and miss work, and are able to schedule personal appointments and other obligations outside of working hours.
  • Improved retention - Tower Paddle Boards reported increased retention rates with the five-hour workday due to happier employees and a more positive working culture.

A few important components to keep in mind if you’re considering a shortened workday for your organization:

  • Employee compensation remains the  same - The focus is on productivity, not hours worked.
  • Employees are available only during working hours - the “always available” construct is abandoned. Employees are discouraged from taking work calls during off-hours, and work email on personal phones is discouraged.
  • Some days may be longer than others - An abbreviated workday is not a hard and fast rule; especially busy periods may require more hours, which should be communicated to employees from the outset.

“9 to 5, they got you where they want you…”

There are also potential drawbacks to the five-hour workday, as Aarstol noted in his book:

  • Though increasing focus can help boost productivity, some workers felt pressured to complete tasks within the confines of the new, tighter schedule. For example,  creating a spreadsheet, which formerly took 30 minutes, now had to be done in half the time. 
  • Diminished room for error generated resentment among some employees.
  • Spending less time at work with other employees can lead to less workplace bonding and a less collaborative workforce.
  • While the five-hour workday can be a great recruitment tool, more time was required to determine which candidates applied because they were a good fit versus because they were only interested in a shorter workday. 

These adverse effects led Tower Paddle Boats to eventually limit the five-hour workday to four summer months per year, attributing its early success in part to the “all-in”sentiment associated with most startups.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to improving work-life balance and combatting workplace trends that can fuel employee burnout, the five-hour workday is a compelling approach that’s likely to gain more traction in the coming decades.

 

No items found.

more insights

subscribe

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular insight and news

Our Latest White Paper!
Human Led, AI Assisted
Uniting Artificial and Human Intelligence to Combat Bias in Hiring
Download Today

more insight

How to Execute an Effective Total Rewards Program In 3 Simple Steps

Current workforce realities such as competing job opportunities and The Great Resignation make Total Rewards programs vital for attracting and retaining talent. Here’s how companies can do it right.

Read More >>
As Right-to-Disconnect Laws Hit Europe, Will U.S. Follow Suit?

Over the last five years, there’s been an increasing focus on laws centered around digital protections and worker’s rights, specifically the “right to disconnect.”

Read More >>
Many Companies Are Saving Incredible Amounts of Cash During the Pandemic. Where Is It Going?

By downsizing or giving up office space altogether, companies can—and should—redirect money to their employees in meaningful ways. Here's how.

Read More >>
AI & Recruiting: Leveraging Artificial Intelligence While Avoiding Bias

As employers contend with the Great Resignation, the use of artificial intelligence for talent acquisition is more important than ever.

Read More >>
Fear Drives More People at Work Than You Think. Let's Change That.

No matter how scary the prospect, striving to achieve your career goals will always yield better results than staying stuck and afraid.

Read More >>
Lack of Digital Adoption Is Becoming More Common in the Workforce, and That's Problematic

When employees fail to understand or properly utilize important tech tools in the workplace, it can have far-reaching implications and may even impact an organization’s bottom line.

Read More >>
AI Recruiting Tools May Be the Future, But Proceed With Caution

AI recruitment tools--while incredibly useful--can also introduce bias. What can companies do to ensure they increase efficiency without harming equity?

Read More >>
How Companies Can Leverage AI Recruiting to Increase Representation in Hiring

A range of approaches to designing and utilizing AI can actually help diversity hiring.

Read More >>
I Use This One Tool to Get 125% More Done

We're trending towards longer and longer work days--but by embracing a decision-making ideology and a task management tool, we don't have to.

Read More >>
New Hires Weigh In: How Do You Survive The Working World?

Navigating a new job is hard--and managing its ups and downs as a new hire during a pandemic is arguably even harder.

Read More >>
Stress Is Rewiring Our Brains. Can Training Like Navy SEALs Help Combat It?

While few employees are running miles in combat boots, mentally training like the elite military unit may help us reclaim our brains from stress.

Read More >>
Working From Home Has Changed Your Brain and Body. Here’s How.

The virtual workspace isn’t going away. Here’s how WFH is affecting us — and how these changes could reshape the workforce as we know it.

Read More >>
The Life of an HR Executive: a Roundtable Discussion

Human Resources executives are central to the success of an organization, setting the tone for how employees can contribute and thrive. Here, a few industry leaders share their insights.

Read More >>
The Ahmaud Arbery Trial's Social Justice Ramifications Affect Companies and Their Employees. Here's How.

Processing emotionally charged events can impact people in ways that are difficult to manage. What can be done to support them?

Read More >>
Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Workforce in Ways You've Never Imagined

From cobots that collaborate with humans to HoloLens, a wearable holographic computer, AI is no longer science fiction.

Read More >>
Yes, Your Nostalgia Is Valid. That Doesn't Mean It Belongs At Work.

As old paradigms fall by the wayside, how we shape corporate culture and do business altogether is transforming at breakneck speeds.

Read More >>
How the LGBTQ+ Movement is Dismantling the Gender Binary System

Uniqueness of identification has grown and blossomed into a spectrum of diversity, challenging the way companies think about DEIB.

Read More >>
The Big Quit: How Burnout Is Reshaping the Workforce

A number of complex forces are steering people away from the workforce, but arguably the most common one is burnout.

Read More >>
Is the 5-Hour Workday the Answer to All Our Problems?

Of all the theories that aim to engender better work-life balance, the five-hour workday is one of the most compelling.

Read More >>
Why You're Probably Using the Word "Strategy" Incorrectly

Just because you say you're operating strategically doesn't mean your plan is strategic.

Read More >>
No, You Can’t Always Just “Be Yourself” At Work. Here’s Why. 

Yes, “be yourself” is definitely sound advice--and these days, employers are known to tell their employees the same thing. But there are limits.

Read More >>
Is Fear a Barrier to Inclusion & Belonging? Why Companies Balk at Action

DEIB programs are surging across the American workplace. Why are some employers still not taking action?

Read More >>
Speed vs. Quality: The Timeless Dilemma

It's not always easy to know when to prioritize speed vs. quality in business. There may be more than one right answer.

Read More >>
Intent vs. Impact: The Communication Disconnect

Your words often don't have the impact you intend them to--which can be problematic, especially in the workplace.

Read More >>
Feedback Doesn't Have to be Scary

Giving and receiving valuable feedback isn't always an easy task. Here are some insights to help you along the way.

Read More >>
Does Unlimited PTO Work?

Unlimited PTO sounds like a dream come true. Is it here to stay, or just the flavor of the week?

Read More >>
Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Webinar

Join us for a dynamic discussion with neurodiversity experts on the benefits of employing a diverse team.

Read More >>
Lessons in Biases from the Olympics

Our biases manifest everywhere--and even during our most celebrated and joyous traditions, they can leave an impact.

Read More >>
A New Norm? Exploring the Four-Day Workweek

Are we truly our most productive when we work five days a week? Recent studies suggest otherwise.

Read More >>
Reflections on LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Corporate America

For Pride Month 2021, Enspira interviewed two pioneers in the LGBTQ+ business community who continue to inspire change.

Read More >>
How to Address & Support Mental Health

Chances are we all know someone who's struggling with unspoken issues. Here's  how to recognize it, thoughtfully reach out, and help.

Read More >>
Four Steps to Cultivating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

If we want to see real, sustainable change, we all must continue to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in the workplace.

Read More >>
Caregivers: Working Women in a Pandemic

The raging pandemic has pushed people beyond reasonable limits, and has adversely affected women disproportionately.

Read More >>
Propelling Gender & Racial Equity in STEM

The world is facing monumental challenges in the time of COVID-19, widening existing gaps in racial and gender equity.

Read More >>
Your frontline managers’ capability & effectiveness matters now more than ever. Here’s what you need.

It’s now more important than ever to ensure your organization has strong people manager capability and effectiveness.

Read More >>
Disrupting Your Workplace Culture with “The 3 Bs of Belonging”

How inclusive is your organization? Simply checking the representation boxes and creating policies isn't enough.

Read More >>

explore our offerings & capabilities

additional services

Hand holding plant icon

talent strategy & development

Creating innovative talent management strategies to help build and retain a world-class workforce.

Hand shake icon

employee engagement & retention

Developing comprehensive employee engagement and retention strategies to improve productivity, reduce turnover, and foster innovation.

Gift box icon

total rewards analysis

Identifying optimal combinations of benefits, compensation, rewards, and recognition to enhance employee engagement and performance.

Potted plan icon

change strategy & enablement

Guiding organizations through complex and challenging evolutions to keep employees engaged throughout the journey.

Project development on a desk

Enspira reimagines and revolutionizes the human-work experience with innovative HR solutions that put the power of business purpose in the hands of your people.

contact us
No items found.