Think a 40-Hour Workweek Isn't Enough? Studies, Execs Tell You to Think Again

Featured Image for Think a 40-Hour Workweek Isn't Enough? Studies, Execs Tell You to Think Again

The 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek is becoming more and more challenged in the digital age. With organizations using digital tools to be productive and accessible at all times, many of them hold the expectation that employees will be responsive to work demands that arise beyond the traditional eight-hour, Monday-Friday work hours.

But employees increasingly want to untether themselves from the 24/7 work culture and instead are searching for jobs that let them better balance their careers and personal lives. It's a movement that HR leaders shouldn't ignore because if they want to hire and retain the best workers, their organizations might have to consider implementing a 9-5 workday to keep employees happy — despite whatever access technology may allow to employees.

People Seek Jobs With Work-Life Balance

According to the ADP Research Institute® (ADP RI) report, "Fixing The Talent Management Disconnect: Employer Perception Versus Employee Reality," working hours is an area where employers and employees don't always see eye to eye.

Employers recognize that employees place great importance on work hours but believe that perhaps the correct time to discuss those expectations is during the onboarding process. However, according to ADP RI, that may not be the right time. Work hours was the second most cited factor affecting job consideration, behind only the work itself. Similarly, disenchantment with work hours was the second most cited reason for employees leaving a business, following a poor relationship with a direct manager. Having conversations about work hours during the interview process is the best time and place to address the topic to ensure both sides are on the same page.

Employees Expect to Disconnect From Work

More than 70 percent of the employees say they expect to be able to disconnect when they leave work, according to the ADP RI report. If organizations take this expectation seriously and want to steadfastly uphold a workweek of 40 hours — or reduce their current weekly hourly output to 40 — then HR leaders need to promote the benefits of this parameter.

Instituting a 40-hour workweek means first integrating the concept that productivity won't suffer if employees aren't working 50 or even 60 hours a week. HR leaders can help management teams stress the idea to employees, through words and actions, that productivity can indeed be optimized in 40 hours. Performance and HCM tools monitor how employees work — highlighting how long they're in meetings or whether they're spending too much time on one task — and can help them make the most of 40 hours. But these tools can't just be the means to the end. Sharing that data with employees will let them see how they're spending their time and allow them to adjust tasks accordingly.

A professor of HR and management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University told Fast Company that "most white collar workers have a hazy idea of how many hours they work." By embracing performance tracking, organizations will have hard numbers on which to base productivity — but to secure buy-in, employees need to be part of the conversation.

Organizations Complete Tasks Without Working More Hours

As "Fixing the Talent Management Disconnect" reveals, employees will stay at their current job if they can highly value the work itself and the work hours. Organizations that adhere to a 40-hour workweek send a message to that by curbing the tendency of employees to put in long hours, they're viewing the long-term picture of keeping employees satisfied and are being mindful of a work-life balance. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried told Inc. that by not budging on a 40-hour maximum workweek, he and his employees focus on results and accomplish the goals they set.

A Healthy Balance of Work Promotes Health

Surely, some employees will resist the 9-to-5 workday and argue they can't get all of their work accomplished in 40 hours. HR leaders can help managers counter this argument by pointing to studies that show working long hours diminishes production. ADP reports that a Stanford University study, for example, found that productivity declines when people work more than 50 hours a week, and output at 70 hours a week was no different than output at 56 hours.

The 40-Hour Workweek Isn't Dead

The prevailing thought in the work world is that the 40-hour week is not just dying but is already dead. Entrepreneur even wrote a satirical obituary paying tribute to it. But at the end of the "obituary," there is a plea to not give up on the cause of working only 40 hours, arguing that the practice will convince top talent they should work at these organizations. As "Fixing The Talent Management Disconnect" and other studies have also shown, a refreshed worker is a happy worker — and thus a productive worker.

Stay up-to-date on the latest workforce trends and insights for HR leaders: subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.