The Government of Mauritius has recently increased the number of working hours from 8 to 9 in the latest Workers Rights 2019. At the same time, a Japanese Microsoft office has been experimenting with a four days work week - noting an increase of 40% in productivity.
What is the origin of the 8 hours of work?
The 8 hour day or 40 hour week movement was started to regulate the length of a working day to prevent excesses and abuses. Before that, working day could typically be around 10 to 16 hours, six days per week. Robert Owen coined the slogan "eight hours' labour, eight hours' recreation and eight hours' rest". Countries gradually implemented this working model throughout the 1800s and early 1900s.
We celebrate this event each day as Labour Day.
Nowadays, however, with the advent of automation and technological breakthroughs, the way we work has changed dramatically.
What makes the 8 hours work day obsolete?
The nature of work has transformed throughout the years with the introduction of the digital economy, which has removed geographical boundaries. Physical presence is no longer required for one's professional duties. Corporations have been offshoring their business units abroad in developing countries where the work force and infrastructure costs are much lower.
From the traditional click and brick mortar companies, most businesses nowadays generate much of their income from online services. We have moved from a manufacturing industry to a service one.
The biggest reason why working hours should be reduced is because: they do not include time to prepare for work, commuting and recuperation. People nowadays rest throughout the weekend. Yet, they still have other important things to do in between - such as house and car maintenance, appointments and groceries.
Employees have to therefore juggle between their local and sick leaves to attain to these duties. Not to forget parents, who also need to cater preparing their kids for school.
With all that in mind, that's the biggest reason, in my opinion, an ever growing number of people prefer the public sector even if the pay is significantly less.
An improvement with examples
Six Hours Work Day
A better solution for everyone, is to reduce the working hours to six per day or work only four days per week. This gives people time to do other important things and truly have the weekend to recuperate - resulting in happier and more productive people.
Contrary to popular or traditional management beliefs, working more actually has a decreasing return.
The experiment is not the first time long weekends have been experimented with in the corporate world. In 2018, New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day work week over two months for its 240 staff members. Employees reported experiencing better work–life balance and improved focus in the office. Staff stress levels decreased by 7%.
Workers have often said they could be more productive with less time in the office. A survey of 1,500 workers and 600 human resources managers by HR consulting firm Robert Half found 66% of workers said they wanted to work less than five days a week.
This Harvard business review points out how the state of work has drastically changed and most employees can be more productive while working less. You can find plenty of such case studies and examples, especially in countries like Netherlands, Danemark and Sweden.
Work Oriented vs Working Hours
Instead of having fixed working hours, you can leave the office once you've completed your task for the day. For many of us software developers, we often have a period whereby we have plenty of free time waiting for the customer's feedback. There is no point inventing new work. We can in these situations, come to office later or leave earlier so as to rest and recuperate and be therefore more productive for the upcoming deadlines.
Unless you have enough time to relax and recuperate you cannot do your best work and be your most productive. Deep work requires deep rest.
For business owners, having this flexibility enables more profits, yet we see, many of them, stuck thinking that the more time you spend in front of your PC, the more productive you are - even if there is currently no work.
Benefits of working less
Moreover, people who work less hours have reported to be sick fewer days. People who are still recuperating from illness yet come to work, will take far longer time to actually recuperate and be really productive.
Working too much results in burnout irrespective how committed and motivated you are. We, human beings, require rest to function correctly. In fact, regular breaks make us more motivated.
It's no surprise that people barely do more than 5 years at the same company nowadays, especially in our industry - the tech industry. Sometimes you are in the zone and finish work a bit late as you can code more, yet you are expected to show up in the office the next day at the same time.
I believe in a win-win situation whereby everyone wins - the business owner and the employees. Salary alone is not enough for keeping employees happy over the long term - challenging work and flexibility are as important.