Here’s a snapshot of the American workforce in the early 20th century: Our own Industrial Revolution — influenced by the United Kingdom — required employees to work six days a week and log 10-16 hours per shift. Not surprisingly, that dogged schedule maimed or killed a combined 536,165 employees per year, more than 1 percent of the country’s total population at the time.
That was the American laborer’s norm, one Henry Ford eradicated with the installation of a 40-hour workweek. But more than a century later, Ford’s disruptively innovative production strategy still cuts against the natural grain for employees.
My adventures abroad as a young, unemployed graduate opened my eyes to a fresher, more global work ethic. Instead of working to live, work to make a living. See it as a means to an end, not vice versa.
My own full-time entrance to the American workplace showed me that this basic need wasn’t being met. I also knew the eight-hour workday needed a makeover — and out of that update came the five-hour workday.
Get to the Bottom Line Quicker
What can employees produce with three fewer hours and no lunch break? As it turns out, a lot if properly incentivized with a deadline that gets them home to live the rest of their lives.
Like Ford’s assembly line and eight-hour workday, the idea behind the five-hour workday is to maintain or increase productivity in less time through any means available. By shifting expectations, workers only need to focus on work from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. each day, which encourages them to make the most of their time.
The rest, relaxation, and joy of spending more time with family equates to significant gains in efficiency during that shortened window. The shift can be life-changing within any individual company.
But when it spreads throughout an entire society, an entire workforce’s productivity and output could effectively double. Employees can be happier, healthier, and sharper than they’ve ever been.
Maximize Your Minutes
Change doesn’t happen overnight. More importantly, it can’t infiltrate the desired target without immediate commitment from your employee base. To ensure a smooth, successful implementation, follow these three steps to normalize shorter, more productive workdays:
1. Dip in a toe. My company’s venture into the five-hour workday started as a pilot program of sorts. I positioned it as a summer experiment that we were trying, with no indication that it’d be anything more. Frame your own transition similarly.
Before a permanent work schedule overhaul, try a dry run. Bring everyone together and announce that for a limited time, the company will attempt to institute a shorter schedule. Attach an end date to it.
This lessens any pressure one feels to conform and makes any necessary deviations back to the norm easier. Given such a great incentive, workers will work miracles to pump out effective, efficient work so they can tend to outside matters.
2. Make tech a teammate. In many areas, people fear that technology will soon force them out of their jobs. But in most industries, the real power of technology isn’t in replacing people — it’s in helping them streamline processes to be more productive.
For instance, instead of creating a wholly automated customer service process, have a real person answer the phones. That representative can then use your company’s website, YouTube clips, and published articles to further enhance the customer experience.
Integrated effectively, technology helps mold your company’s business model. If you shorten the hours at your brick-and-mortar location, keep your online store open 24-7. People will find you to determine when your store is open and then visit you during those hours. You won’t lose customers; you’ll simply see more of them in less time.
3. Set a standard. Most employees will be stoked about being more productive in five hours, but some will only see it as an excuse to slack. The eight-hour day and the tendency to clock hours, rather than productivity, is too ingrained in some.
Weed such workers out by emphasizing the fact that, to be truly successful, the five-hour method must meet or exceed current productivity levels. Make the schedule a baseline of expected hours, not an expectation of reduced output. You’ll find that many workers will continue working eight, 10, or 12 hours on some days, though with a much better attitude.
When Ford changed the Industrial Age’s mindset about work and the value of workers’ lives, it led to a greater period of productivity. This time, we have the help of technology to make an even greater leap that includes vastly improving the quality of employees’ lives while setting a new norm.
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