I have great relationships with several journalists. They reach out to me for quotes and my thoughts on the productivity-related pieces they are writing. And, I get the benefit of their keen insights into what current readers want to read.
Recently, a journalist emailed me this question: How many hours per week should you work?
There are groups in Europe who are pushing for workers to share in the extraordinary gains in productivity generated by advancements in technology. Their point is that employers should share profitability with employees in both money and time.
As a former Human Resources leader, I think an organization should examine its work hour requirements to see if schedule adjustments would be a valuable, and doable, employee benefit to offer.
Reducing the required number of work hours per week is as reasonable an employee perk as a ping-pong table or napping pods. It could improve both recruitment and retention.
And, like the Belgian organization, Femma, a 30-hour work week may help employees find more work/life balance and reduce stress.
Does working fewer hours solve the real problem?
Femma is a feminist advocacy organization who polled its 60,000 female members asking about their frustrations at work. One of the primary findings was this:
Between work and their disproportionate share of the household and child-care responsibilities, the women reported having little time for themselves. [emphasis added]
So, Femma decided to try a 30-hour workweek with Fridays off.
I support Femma’s one-year experiment in principle. But, what does it change about the actual root problem? These women still carry a disproportionate share of household and child-care responsibilities.
However, I’m sure that many of the employees of Femma were thrilled with the reduction in hours, especially at first.
I bring this hot button topic up to get you thinking about whether work hours reductions are, by themselves, the cure to our work/life balance issues.
As a woman who quit her upwardly mobile corporate job in order to run a single-member LLC, I can tell you that my work hours have not changed much. My work/life balance, however, is as different as sweet potatoes and nuclear fission.
What about Parkinson’s Law?
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
On one hand, Parkinson’s Law is a good reason to reduce work hours. Employers may be able to get the same amount of productivity with fewer hours.
On the other hand, who is to say that our non-work activities won’t expand to fill a three-day weekend just as they fill a two-day one, leaving us as stressed and tired on Monday mornings as we are now?
Advocates for a reduced-hour work week are assuming that the extra time will be devoted to self-care and rejuvenation. In some cases, that assumption is right on. But, isn’t it equally likely to lead to more of the same activities with which we are currently filling our weekends?
In my book, Seraphina Does Everything, the main character has a fear of missing out (FOMO). She participates in every after-school activity she can in order to alleviate this fear. She is busy every day.
If Seraphina’s school week suddenly ended on Thursday afternoons, she would see it as an opportunity to sign up for more extracurricular activities on Fridays. The issue isn’t the amount of time she is in the classroom, the issue is her FOMO. Until that is addressed, Seraphina will continue to behave as she always has.
Luckily, in the book, she has her dad there to guide her…
So, what is the answer?
On more occasions than I can count, a client has said to me: “I think I need to quit this job. The demands are unreasonable.” Typically, they have very few productivity systems that they use regularly.
My response is this: “The one thing that will be 100% in common between your current job and future one is…you. If you are not managing your time and tasks well here, you likely won’t be managing them well elsewhere. You’ll be in the same boat in six months, but without any accrued vacation time.”
The one thing in common between your 40+ hour per week job and a 30+ hour per week job is also…you.
Are you managing your time and tasks well? If not, then working fewer hours per week will just make your life more miserable. You’ll feel more pressure and stress.
Do you know how to practice self-care that is truly life affirming and rejuvenating? If not, then your extra time each week may be spent on things that make you feel worse instead of better.
Before blaming your unhappiness on the number of hours you work, change your patterns.
Manage your work patterns differently: Be more effective, productive, and organized during the hours you work. Increase your satisfaction with a job well done.
Manage your life patterns differently: Set goals. Strive for 80% rather than perfection. Find out what self-care looks like for you.
Treat the causes of your problems with work/life balance before you treat the symptoms. You may find that it wasn’t the bottom-line number of hours after all.
Are you ready to finally achieve what you set out to do?
Read my eBook Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them.
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at email@example.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
Well thought out and presented, Melissa! Thank you for these thought-provoking insights into the various issues beyond the initial idea.
I am reminded of the recovery issues such as the pains one bears led him or her to consider drinking as a way to forget the pains. The solution he or she pursued became the problem. My point is that addressing the drinking is not as effective as addressing the underlying hurts that cause the pain.
Thank you for all you do! Blessings, my friend.
This is exactly my point, Fred. Thanks for seeing it. It’s also like lottery winners who are equally unhappy after all of their money problems go away. We must make sure we aren’t putting band-aids on broken arms.