The New York Times article How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters explores the research of Erin Reid, a Boston University professor who interviewed more than 100 employees of a global consulting firm that has a culture centered around working long hours. Here’s one of the interesting findings of the study: Reid discovered that the employees who were pretending to buy into the workaholic culture while secretly logging more reasonable hours received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. However the employees who requested lighter and more flexible work hours, or less travel were punished in their performance reviews.

My favorite part of the article is this snippet from the concluding sentence: …too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity. 

Luckily, most professionals don’t log an 80-hour workweek like some of the employees interviewed for Reid’s study, however most professionals in the U.S. unfortunately work for companies that reward the illusion of productivity over actual productivity.

My bold claim that most companies prefer the illusion of productivity is built on a solid foundation of research that proves that the 5-day workweek is simply not the most productive, nor the most profitable schedule, yet most companies still subscribe to this model. 

The 5-day workweek was developed during the industrial revolution – prior to the invention of electricity. Needless to say, the 5-day workweek is an old-school concept. Our workweek needs to be updated as soon as possible. The outdated 5-day work week is not only bad for people, it is also bad for business.

Thankfully, the antiquated 5-day workweek format is losing favor among business decision makers. According to the 2014 National Study Of Employers, approximately 43% of employers surveyed allow employees to work a compressed workweek in lieu of the outdated 5-day schedule. In 2008, this percentage was only at 38%.

Don’t Take My Word For It

I know it’s hard to believe that working fewer hours, or at least fewer days, can be good for business, so here are some quotes and case studies that will likely inspire you to add your business to the roster of companies opting for a new approach to the workweek.

1. Tax Services Firm, Ryan

“Since we implemented flexible workweeks in 2008, all the metrics a CEO cares about have gone in the right direction,” says Delta Emerson, president of global shared services for the tax services firm Ryan. The company turnover rate dropped from 30% to 11%, revenue and profits almost doubled, client satisfaction scores reached an all-time high, and the firm has received multiple “best place to work” awards. – How These Companies Have Made Four-Day Workweeks Feasible, Fast Company

The bottom line:

–     Turnover rate decreased from 30% to 11%

–     Revenue and profits almost doubled

–     Client satisfaction increased

–     Won multiple “Best Place To Work” awards

2. Global audit, tax and advisory firm, KPMG

Among large employers, global audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, offers a compressed workweek option to its U.S. employees. “We recognize it’s a win-win for the company and the employees,” said Barbara Wankoff, KPMG’s director of workplace solutions. “Their satisfaction goes way up when they have control over their time. And it increases employee morale and productivity and retention.” – Who doesn’t want to take Fridays off?, CNN

The bottom line:

–     Employee morale increased

–     Productivity increased

–     Employee retention increased

3. Greece vs. Germany

Workplace productivity doesn’t increase with hours worked, the OECD concluded. Workers in Greece clock 2,034 hours a year versus 1,397 in Germany, for example, but the latter’s productivity is 70% higher. – At Work, Every Friday Should Be a Summer FridayNew York Magazine

The bottom line: Productivity was 70% higher

4. Basecamp and 37Signals

In an op-ed in the New York Times, software CEO Jason Fried reported that the 32-hour, four-day workweek his company follows from May through October has resulted in an increase in productivity. “Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he wrote. It makes sense: When there’s less time to work, there’s less time to waste. And when you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. (Like sleep, quality work happens best when uninterrupted.) Fried also reported that the four-day workweek had made it easier to recruit new talent and retain valuable staff — male and female. – Consider The Benefits Of The 4 Day Work Week, Forbes

The bottom line: 

–     Easier to recruit talent

–     Easier to retain valuable employees

–     Increased productivity

The List Keeps Going

To paint a complete picture of why and how a modified workweek can help businesses succeed, here are some additional facts that are critical to this discussion.

5. Happiness

A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. As the research team put it, “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.” – Why Happy Employees are 12% More Productive, Fast Company

The bottom line: Happy employees are productive employees

6. Work-Life Balance 

A recent survey revealed that nearly two thirds of employees agreed that work-life balance is the most important factor in overall satisfaction. –  Should We All Be On The 4-Day Workweek?, Inc.

The bottom line: Work-life balance increases job satisfaction

7. Health

Just last month, The Lancet published a big meta-analysis — a study of studies, basically — that looked at the link between heart disease and overwork in more than 600,000 American, European, and Australian men and women. They found that the individuals who worked longer hours — 55 hours per week or more — had a 33 percent increased risk of stroke than people who worked less than 40 hours per week; the overworked employees also had a 13 percent greater risk of developing heart disease compared to their peers who worked fewer hours. – Every Weekend Should Be a 3-Day Weekend, New York Magazine

The bottom line: Too much work makes people sick

8. Innovation

“When you look at where insights come from, they come from where we least expect them. They only arrive after we stop looking at them. If you’re an engineer working on a problem and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you’re going to be really frustrated. You’re going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time. Instead, at that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax.” – ‘Imagine’ That: Fostering Creativity In The Workplace, NPR

The bottom line: Relaxing leads to solutions

The Solutions

While the modified workweek won’t be a good fit for all companies, there are a variety of creative alternatives to the traditional Monday-Friday format that make it possible for most businesses to move into the future, away from a work structure that was developed when people were still using candles instead of lightbulbs.

For example, consider testing a new schedule by offering a 4-day workweek only during your slowest monthsProject management Web toolmaker Basecamp, which has 47 employees, institutes a 4-day workweek from May through August for staffers who have been there at least a year, according to CNN.

If you cannot fathom making the switch even for one season, test a compressed workweek by giving employees a 3-day weekend once a month, instead of every week.

And if you need to keep your doors open 5 days a week, give some of your employees Monday off, and give other employees Friday off. Both sets of employees will enjoy the rejuvenation and inspiration that comes from a long weekend, but your clients will still have Monday through Friday access to your team.

Lastly, if your team will benefit from long stretches of uninterrupted work flow, followed by 3 days of freedom, try scheduling employees for 10-hours, 4 days a week; this format could be the perfect solution for your business.

At Ethos3, we operate according to R.O.W.E. – Results Only Work Environment, which is another productivity strategy that can help organizations transition from a standard workweek format to a more nontraditional approach to time management.

No matter how you test the compressed workweek schedule, you can’t afford to not at least test the theory that shorter weeks lead to greater results for businesses. And don’t forget to give yourself a compressed schedule as well. Don’t reserve this new format only for your employees. Consider that most people only get to enjoy approximately 2,000 weekends before they die. Life is too short to not give yourself an extra day every weekend. And with all of the extra profits you will accrue as a result of the new schedule, you can enjoy your additional weekend days in style.

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