The 2nd richest man in the world must know something, right? Carlos Slim went public with his thoughts about fewer workdays, late retirement and the importance of leisure. Lisa Taylor argues that it’s an idea whose time seems to have come, driven by advances in technology and changing expectations.
In 2014, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim announced his idea for a massive overhaul of the traditional 40-hour workweek. His suggestion: employees would work 11-hour days for 3 days a week, and hold off on retirement until age 70 or 75. Slim was quoted as saying: “With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life. Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied.”
Slim isn’t the only one who feels the traditional workweek needs a change. In July 2014, Sweden began a yearlong social experiment among one city’s municipal departments. Some departments shifted to a 30-hour workweek while others remained at 40 hours. All employees receive the same pay and have the same output expectations. At the end of the experiment, the different departments will be evaluated for overall productivity, employee health and wellness and departmental morale.
In revolutionary times the very organizing structures we typically rely on to make sense of our workplace become questioned. In the Industrial Revolution, processes to mass-produce goods replaced hand production. In the financial revolution new models of raising capital expanded the horizons of how companies could finance growth. In the technology revolution the global marketplace became accessible to businesses of all sizes that had previously relied on local markets and suppliers.There is no doubt that workplaces are changing. Indeed, as the technology revolution makes good on its productivity promises, we are entering a new revolutionary era: the talent revolution.
Now, in the dawn of the talent revolution we are seeing early challenges to the way work is structured. In particular, companies and employees are starting to question the relationship between time worked (or time at work) and productivity.
Flexibility in workday structure and schedule is often associated with Millennial employees. The stereotype suggests that employees in their 20s and 30s want to start and end their work day according to their own schedules, allowing work-time and leisure-time to intersect in the most efficient way. A 24-hour day just becomes “time” that can be allocated to work, play, volunteer and family activities.
Yet a stronger desire to gain control over time is not uniquely a Millennial workforce demand.
Boomers and Gen Xers also value opportunities to control working time. As one client suggested last week, “If I had to complete all of my work from 8:30-5:00 without any flexibility I would never be able to take my 87-year-old mother to her doctor’s appointments. She simply cannot go alone. I would have to quit or find some other sort of work.” Working parents, caregivers for aging family members and employees with significant volunteer and community obligations are all examples of populations that value newer measures of productivity over adherence to specific working hours.
Challenges to the 8-hour, 5 days per week work schedule are attractive to all generations because technological advancement and a shift to knowledge work means that many employees really can work anytime, anywhere. The newest generation of workers may be faster adopters of flexible work schedules – but only because they are entering the workforce at a time when this type of flexibility is possible. Other generations are in the midst of making a shift from the traditional model and it takes time to shift perspectives, perceptions and patterns of work.
Certainly today there remain front-line service, process and operation jobs that require specific shifts, working time and work location. But there are many sectors that can re-evaluate the role fixed-time schedules play in achieving overall corporate and organizational goals. These sectors may not need to maintain manufacturing focused workday structures to sustain productivity and profitability levels, and employees know it.
Rethinking the time we spend at work is just one of the changes occurring as part of the talent revolution that is challenging both management and employees. Sweden is taking an interesting exploratory step by focusing on the number of hours that employees need to work in order to remain productive.
What assumptions would you like to see challenged in your workplace?