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Pining for a 4-Day work week?

Today's post is courtesy of Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos.

When Labor Day weekend passes in the US, it marks the official end of summer.  Even if the hot weather continues, it's not long until the days grow shorter, and it can feel like work consumes more of your week.  Even if you enjoy your job, you may spend more time on it than you'd like.  Especially on those days when you work all day and don't feel you've accomplished as much as you needed to.

Recently, we asked workers around the world about their attitudes toward their jobs and their managers.  We collected data from over 2700 employees in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the U.K., and the U.S.  On September 4th, we released the results from the first part of this research, related to how workers are spending their time at work.

We found that even though most workers (75 percent) say they have enough time in the workday to finish their work, nearly two in five (37 percent) work more than 40 hours each week and 71 percent claim work interferes with their personal lives.

If people generally have enough time to get their jobs done, why are they working overtime - even to the point of getting burned out?  

Even though 71 percent of workers accomplish what they want to at work every day or almost every day, three in four employees (79 percent) suffer from at least some burnout at work.  Unreasonable workload (26 percent) was the top reason cited for burnout, followed by “not enough time in the day to get job done” (25 percent); lack of skilled co-workers (24 percent); a negative workplace culture / toxic team (24 percent); and unfair compensation (21 percent).

More than half of all employees worldwide (53 percent) feel pressure to work longer hours or pick up extra shifts to grow their career - yet oftentimes that pressure comes from within. Of those who feel pressure to work longer, 60 percent put pressure on themselves while the rest say that pressure comes solely from their managers.

What are people spending time on at work?

When asked what they spend the majority of their workday doing, individual contributors (56 percent) and people managers (28 percent) both listed servicing customers as their top task.  The next highest-rated workday tasks for individual contributors include collaborating with co-workers (42 percent), administrative work (35 percent), manual labor (33 percent), and responding to emails (31 percent), while people managers list attending meetings (27 percent), administrative work (27 percent), collaborating with co-workers (26 percent), and responding to emails (26 percent) as the top ways they spend their workday.

How much time isn't contributing to meeting their objectives? 

Almost nine out of 10 employees (86 percent) say they lose time each day on work-specific tasks unrelated to their core job, with 41 percent of full-time employees wasting more than an hour a day on these extraneous activities. Additionally, 40 percent of employees say they lose an hour-plus each day on administrative tasks that do not drive value for their organization.

“Fixing a problem not caused by me” (22 percent) and administrative work (17 percent) were the top two answers given by full-time employees when asked what they waste the most time on at work. Meetings (12 percent), email (11 percent), and customer issues (11 percent) round out the top five time-wasters.

So what about that shorter work week?

Our respondents would spend less time at work if they could.  One-third of employees (35 percent) would take a 20 percent pay-cut to work one day less per week.  According to this recent New York Times article, A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Resultthere have been multiple successful trials of shorter work weeks that led to happier employees without a loss of productivity.  The comments on this article are as interesting as the article itself, ranging from those who'd work no other way to business owners who say they can't make it work.   

One interesting finding in our research is that despite their legislated 35-hour work week,  42 percent of French respondents said they'd take a 20% pay cut in return for a 4-day work week.  

What can organizations do to achieve their productivity goals without burning out employees?

Managers are the first line of defense when it comes to 1) ensuring employees are clear on their priorities and 2) monitoring whether they are reaching a point of burnout.  Our respondents indicated that they are putting more pressure on themselves than they are experiencing from their managers.

Leaders and managers need to remove obstacles to productivity where they can.  Our respondents say they spend a significant amount of time doing work that doesn't contribute to meeting their objectives.  Prior research we conducted revealed that organizations may undermine their employees' productivity through outdated attitudes and policies. It's not unusual for systems and processes to outlive their usefulness in any workplace.  It's important to revisit how work is getting done on a regular basis and challenge whether there is a better way.

It's obvious not all employees are the same when it comes to their needs for work life balance and those needs can change over time.  For managers willing to explore creative solutions that will work for their team, there are longstanding, practices out there to help workers achieve the balance they need such as compressed work weeks, job sharing, self-scheduling, etc.



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