The new global economy is shifting the 9-5 workday to 24/7

In a global economy that never sleeps, the traditional 9-5 workday is slowly disappearing. Employers are increasingly adapting their workspace to make it more flexible for employees. This has created a new dynamic in the global workforce – an economy that never stops working. In other words, the 9-5 is slowly disappearing, making way for the 24/7.

Remote work, offices that offer enticing features to make an employee stay longer or start earlier, or employees inventing their own hours. These are all part of this shift, and are a bid to increase productivity, retention, and overall happiness. But, it begs the question: is it working?

In Silicon Valley, filled with companies known for innovating work environments and best practices, offices are taking cues from one another and upping the ante, if you will. Slides (we see you Google), massages, childcare, and catered meals are just a few examples of the benefits employees can receive in the hopes that they’ll stay longer and work harder.

Should small-medium businesses (SMB) be keeping up with these luxurious cues?

A history of work

In truth, the 40-hour work-week is a made up, now fact of life—created in the late 19th century—that we’ve all just accepted as necessary.

Prior to its official implementation in 1940, there was a long, drawn-out battle between workers and government officials.

This fight started in 1890 when the government began to track that on average, manufacturing employees worked about 100 hours per week.

Over the next 50 years, labor organizations demanded shorter work days and weeks. This resulted in labor disputes and strikes before Congress finally passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. This act limited the workweek to 44 hours until it was amended in 1940 to the standard 40 hours we see today.

What’s been happening since?

With the advancement of technology, workers are essentially available 24/7. Offices are taking advantage of this round the clock availability, asking more of their employees and disintegrating the 40-hour work week.

China provides a great example of the abandonment of the 9-5. Here, office culture (mostly in the tech sector) has become the 996. That is, employees that start work at 9am, leave at 9pm and work six days a week.

In the US, long hours are viewed as a sort of status symbol: 58% of managers work over 40 hours a week according to a survey by EY.

And in a Forbes article, research shows that 60% of employees work before or after standard business hours anyways.

The long truth

No matter where you work, the truth is that working longer hours can be counterproductive. Inevitably, the longer you work, the lower the quality of your work becomes.

In a small survey conducted by Sage People, employees admitted they’re productive for less than 30 hours a week. At the same time, the hours that Americans admit to working reaches far beyond the lawful 40, according to Gallup. The average American works 47 hours a week, with four in 10 working at least 50 hours.

For his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, former Silicon Valley strategy consultant Alex Soojun-Kim Pang found that four hours of work a day is the maximum successful energy output our brains can handle. His research also drew on theories and practices from historical figures like Charles Darwin who successfully worked for shorter periods of time, with breaks.

Findings like this go to show that overworking is not the solution to productivity. In fact, according to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” The longer we have to complete a task, the more time we procrastinate and overthink, essentially filling that extra time with stress and anxiety. Whereas, giving less time to a task enables people to focus more and finish faster.

Health implications

Long hours generally means exhaustion and exhaustion can often lead to mistakes. This isn’t new information. In fact, it dates back to the same factory floor that limited workdays to eight hours. Employers found that in reducing hours, they also reduced the chances of an expensive mistake and or accident, which were more common when employees worked nine or more hours per day.

There is an important correlation between working long hours and poor health. Overworked employees stress more, eat more (unhealthier food too), and work out less. On this path, these habits can lead to a myriad of health issues like heart disease and most importantly (and often hidden) mental health issues.

The Lancet medical journal found that people who work for more than 55 hours a week face an increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease compared to those who work 35 to 40 hours a week.

It can be said that employees that work shorter hours are healthier and have more energy and motivation.

And of course, this leads to the most critical aspect of working shorter hours: happier employees.

Who benefits

For his book, LabRats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us (he wrote it, not us), Dan Lyons spoke to Silicon Valley giants and startups to see what attracts millennials to these new workspaces. Lyons found that while slides and free meals were attracting employees like moths to lamps, it was still the more fundamental benefits like job security, opportunities for promotions, and health benefits that millennials seek out.

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Instead of incentives that ask or imply that employees work longer, the science demonstrates the best method for the best work is shorter, flexible hours. Flexible work means happier and more productive employees because they can work on their own accord as long as the task gets accomplished. It’s also a great incentive to attract top talent when recruiting. Finally, the benefit to flexible, shorter arrangements could create a more collaborative and mobile work culture. One that allows members to work together in a meaningful sense.

For SMBs, rather than trying to compete with Silicon Valley giants by providing incentives to get your employees to work longer, try looking into remote work, or more flexible arrangements for employees.

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