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.
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.
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?
A few important components to keep in mind if you’re considering a shortened workday for your organization:
There are also potential drawbacks to the five-hour workday, as Aarstol noted in his book:
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.
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