Pursue What Matters
Episode 183: Is it Possible to Work Less?
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you working too much? Do you wish you could work less? Well? What if this were possible? Let’s explore what might be possible for you?
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:09
I am Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So is it possible or even desirable to work less? Yes, with a pandemic, we’ve learned that we can be totally creative, flexible, and get more done with fewer resources, right? Like, a lot of our beliefs about work and getting things done, were absolutely flipped on their heads with the pandemic, and we had to be creative, we had to be nimble, we had to be scrappy. And we are you have some of the research in now from that time, right. And there are lots of negative impacts, of course, and obviously, from the pandemic, but we also learned where we can become more efficient, more productive, and more effective. And so I want to share some of that with you today. And so, you know, this doesn’t mean that we want to keep pushing that survival mode, because that’s often what was happening, right, like we did what we had to do in very extreme circumstances. But you know, so we don’t want to stay in survival mode. Because over time, of course, this will undermine effectiveness, productivity, and engagement at work. But the pandemic has taught us that we can challenge the status quo, and see about novel approaches to work and life, that may actually work better. So it’s pretty cool. So every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead, I try to do that in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, where are you going? And why does it matter? Leading with curiosity? Do you have self awareness so that you can lead yourself effectively and third, leading and building a community? So looking at those leadership principles that really create the most effective teams? And so for today, we’re really talking about primarily leading and building a community. So it’s how do we work more effectively? Is it possible to work class, and this for sure is valuable for you personally, that this can also be really, really compelling to take a look at with your teams. And so today, I want to share three key points that we’re going to focus on to get us where we want to go. And so the first point is, how much are we working anyway, so let’s kind of get the lay of the land. And so the average hours worked per week in the US during 2021 was 38.7 hours. So that’s the average right? That includes people who are working a lot more than that. People who are maybe just working part time, but we’re working about 40 hours a week, so 38.7. So on average, men worked 40.5 hours per week, while women worked 36.6 hours per week. So pretty close there. Right? Again, we want to take into consideration, part time work versus full time work right there. There are likely more men in full time work in the workforce than women, or at least more women who are doing part time work as opposed to men, right. So plenty of women in full time work. But that’s probably a little bit has a little bit to do with that discrepancy there. And so, some of these numbers come to us from from the balance money, it’s a website, and it documents some of the research. So of course, with everything that I share today, I will include the links on the show notes, so you kind of know where where the data is coming from. So according to another study, so this is a BLS time you survey, full time employed females in the US worked an average of 8.33 hours per day. So that’s quite a full day. While full time employed, Mel’s worked an average of 9.09 hours per day. So again, like very close there. And so before the COVID pandemic 24% of workers work from home, right, so remote work, was maybe like a quarter of workers that were doing remote work. And then of course that increased to 38 percent in 2021. Of course, if we looked at that, right during the heart, heart of the pandemic, that number would have been much higher.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:08
So I think it’ll be interesting to track how that number shifts over time. Because what I would say is hybrid work is here to stay remote work is here to stay, we’ve learned that we can do it, we’ve learned that we can be pretty productive. And so it’s not going anywhere. And people like it, right. That’s the other thing. But there are some special considerations, as teams as leaders that, you know, obviously, we need to pay attention to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:35
So let’s talk a little bit more about this first point, how much are we working anyway? Right. So there are some of the numbers. You know, along with that, we just kind of want to remember right, and this isn’t, this isn’t great news. But work life balance isn’t really a thing. In America, we’re not really good at that. So according to the Center for American Progress on the topic of work, and family life balance, so you know, this is looking over decades, right? In 1960, only 20% of mothers worked outside the home. Whereas today, 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed. So right, we’ve had a real shift in terms of work life balance, and just family time, right. So obviously, this has big implications for the quality of family life. And with sharing that number, right. Like, there’s no implication on my part, that, you know, more mothers should be at home or, you know, more fathers should be working outside of the home and mothers should be home, right, some of these traditional roles, like, you could certainly make a case for that, you could make a case for lots of other things as well. So I just want to be clear that these are some of the numbers that they look at in terms of work life balance, but there’s, you know, like, we want to appreciate that there are lots of other contexts there in terms of how how families best meet their needs. And so, as part of this, we also want to be mindful that when it comes to work, Americans approach work differently than a lot of other countries out there. So America is the only country without a national paid parental leave. Benefit. That’s, that’s a little bit sad to me. Right. And, you know, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t happening, but it’s happening more at the state level. A lot of organizations also are making this commitment. But it’s not it’s not a it’s not a federal. It’s not a federal benefit. And so, I was think we need to be careful about that. Because when you see this, you’d be like, Oh, my gosh, that’s so bad. But also, it’s like, it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening, it’s helping happening in other ways, many times. And maybe you do think it is bad. Right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:49
But I guess the point is that, you know, federal government probably shouldn’t be the answer to all of our questions, right, or all of our concerns, but there are other mechanisms as well. That can be helpful. So whether those are state laws, whether those are companies saying, Hey, we really have this commitment to our, to our folks. And so the average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than other than Europe, and in Europe, you actually get 20 weeks paid leave. So that’s, that’s pretty incredible. Like, that’s a very generous benefit. And so at least 134 countries have laws that set the maximum length of the workweek, but the US does not. Right. So that’s the kind of between the employer and the employee. And so then also, According to OECD stats, US workers work an average of 1700 hours per year versus the OECD country average of 1687. So on average, we’re working about 100 more hours a year than most other countries. So to give you just a little bit of color to that, this is 435 more hours per year than German Workers 400 more hours per year, then UK workers and 365 more hours per year than French workers and 169 more hours per year than Japanese workers. Right. So I kind of think of the Japanese with like, they have a very, very strong work ethic. But Americans are still working almost 200 hours more per year than Japanese workers. So it’s kind of interesting.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:30
So when we look at when we look at this, right, the productivity per American worker has increased a lot since 1950. And so we are we’re working more and we’re more productive, but there seems to be a ceiling with that, right? So you get to a point where you know, you you reach past a certain number of hours and that extra time At Work has diminishing returns, right? Like you’re getting less benefit, you have less focus, less attention, less energy for the work. And so that really takes us to our second main point, which is the cost of too much work, right? There are problems with working too much right? There are benefits of, of, of working more and being productive. But those are also not always the same thing, right. So you can work more hours, and still not be productive. So let’s look into the cost of too much work. So there are three costs that I want to talk about with you today. So the first cost is on manage stress. So you know, I’m a geek about stress. Stress is a good and normal thing. But when we fail to manage the effect of stress on our bodies, that can become very problematic. So when it comes to stress, we need to cope with both the stressor and the stress. So what do I mean by stressor? A stressor is the cause of the stress response on our body. So right, it’s a big deadline. It’s a big work project, it’s a difficult conversation. And most of us are pretty good at dealing with the stressor, right, like we get the job done, we figure things out, we tackle the challenges at work, right? So we have the conversation, we make the decision, we meet the deadline. But then we have stress, which is the effect of the stress response on our body. And most of us are really lousy at this. So we fail to cope with the impact of the stress on our body. So we face the stressor, so the stressor goes away. But we are still marinating in stress hormones, we still have a compromised immune or a heightened immune response. And so, you know, when we fail to proactively and consistently cope with stressors, that’s where we get into the territory of unmanaged stress. And we start to see the health impacts of stress piling up for us. And so, you know, this, we failed to prioritize coping skills. And so I will link to fairly recent podcasts, where I shared seven evidence based coping skills. So if you don’t know where to start with some coping, start there, and just choose one that you can get some traction with. So that is the first cost though is we have unmanaged stress. A second cost of working too much is we have more difficulty coping. So again, we fail to prioritize coping. And when you’re working too much, you don’t have time, right? Like physically, you don’t have time in the calendar for coping. So what happens when you’re working too much, while leisure activities go out the window, exercise might go out the window, high quality meals, like at home meal preparation, might go out the window, the window, and social connection, right? Like you just don’t have time, or energy for these things. And so all of these things help us to cope more effectively, right. So we get a pile on effect. Because these because we don’t have time to engage in these activities, right, we have more unmanaged stress to contend with. And so it kind of gets this snowball rolling downhill of, of unmanaged stress and difficulty coping. And so over time, failure to manage our stress leads to stress sensitization. And so what does that what does that mean, right, it means you’re more susceptible to the impacts of stress in your life. So you become more overwhelmed more quickly, you move to high anxiety, you become more reactive, you get tunnel vision, you start to have those health impacts, such as compromised immune function, impaired digestion, higher blood glucose levels. And so in a nutshell, you have greater difficulty coping with stressors. And so of course, we don’t want that happening for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:59
So that is the second cost, which is difficulty coping. And that moves us to the third cost of working too much, which is a lower quality of life. Now, if you look at these costs, right, they, they it’s really is that snowball effect where one builds upon the other so you have unmanaged stress, and then you have difficulty coping, and then you have a lower quality of life. So left unmanaged, right like this can really wreak some big impacts for us in our life. So we really want to be mindful of that. And so, you know, everything we’ve talked about so far leads to that lower quality of life. Then what do I mean by that? Right? We think about less happiness, more depression, more anxiety, less social connectedness, which is a really important health protective factor. Last quality sleep again, this is a really important health marker, more negative emotions, right so we become more pessimistic, we become angry, we become frustrate As we become resentful, and that becomes kind of our new, our, our new default mode is just more negativity, which I don’t know about you, that’s no fun. And then we have less range in our life, right? So interests outside of work, that create a feedback in a virtuous cycle, benefiting work and other areas of life, it just disappears, right? Because we get that tunnel vision. It’s like everything is work all the time. And you know, we also become less interesting, we become less engaging, people don’t want to hang out with us as much. And so the net effect is a failure to develop resilience in the face of life’s challenges. So again, the three costs of working too much include unmanaged stress, difficulty coping, and lower quality of life. So now, that brings us to our third point, which is we want to see if we can help you work less for big benefits. So right, traditionally, the thought that you could work less and have some benefits or be more productive, people would be like, No way, like, There’s no way that’s true. But we have really good research that that points exactly at that, that you can work less and have big benefits, both personally and professionally. And so next week, I’m going to do a very deep dive into the key benefits of working less, right. So it’s not just beneficial for the individual, but it’s also beneficial for work.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:33
But for today, I want you to consider ways to work less right. So everything about work has changed in the last two and a half years, we’ve trialed, tested a lot of different approaches to work. And we can see that some of them work very well. So let’s look first at remote work, right. So we had an increase in work life balance and increase in work satisfaction and increase in flexibility. Some of the drawbacks of remote work that we can see is folks who are remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues, they feel less connected to purpose, there is a potential for higher turnover if these concerns aren’t addressed, and so right, it’s it’s not a pure good or a pure evil, but there are some important benefits and costs of remote work. So then, so Right, we’re looking at considering ways to work less. So let’s look at another option for that, which is hybrid work, right. So some mix of remote and in office work. So there’s lots of ways to do this. And again, right, like we’ve become very creative. So maybe you’ll have everyone on one team who have set in office days, so that you have that face to face collaboration time. But you also have time outside of the office where you can work individually, I actually think this is a really nice approach. You can also write with that model, you can set meetings for an office day. So if it’s like okay, our team, we all agree we’re going to be in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And so we have all of our meetings set for Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, because we recognize that face to face meetings have been more effective for our team than over zoom, right? Like that’s a great hybrid approach. When you think about a hybrid approach, you want to include both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, right? So we have the face to face meetings, for that synchronous collaboration, where we can all be in a room, we can we can do some smart brainstorming, right that all the research on that. But then we also build in opportunities for asynchronous collaboration. So whether that is working in a shared document, whether that’s pinging on a chat in terms of okay, this is ready, you know, for your review, or this is ready for your next step. But having both types of collaboration is really important for our teams to be more effective and productive. And then there’s another model that we can look at when it comes to considering ways to work. Last right, we’ve talked about remote, we’ve talked about hybrid. And this this one that I want to talk about now, I think it’s very intriguing, and that is to shrink the workweek. And some companies have started doing this. And so it’s important first, from the outset to say that the goal is not to cram 40 hours into 36 hours. And I think that’s one of the first mistakes that a lot of people make when it comes to shrinking the workweek. So you’re trying to do more in less time, which only really leads to frustration. It leads to work not getting done. And so sometimes, right, like, if we’re not careful, we can conclude prematurely that that was a failed experiment. And so we want to be really clear and intentional about what we’re trying aim to do, and that there’s alignment on that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:03
So again, the goal is not to cram 40 hours into 36 hours. But instead, we want to remove a portion of your total work time for the week. So with this model, typically, salaries remain the same. And there are lots of ways to do this. So a really common way that companies do this is they have four days instead of five. So they reduce working hours by 20%. You can have right like everyone at the company takes the same day off. So right like that the Fridays, you can also have people choose a structure that works best for them, right. So there might be a hybrid approach to shortening the workweek. So for example, it might work well for one person on a team to take two afternoons off in the week because it fits with with kiddos schedules or it fits with other activities. And then you could also just say, Okay, we’re going to reduce the work week by a certain number of hours from 40 hours to 36 hours, but teams and individuals may be are freed up to decide what that looks like, for them personally, or as a team. And I think like, I think this is pretty intriguing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:17
There is some new research out that indicates that there are some key benefits of a reduced workweek. So some of that recent research can help us to address many of the current work negatives, right. So the key benefits of a reduced workweek include increased productivity, right? So that really targets job satisfaction, and connection to mission. Another key benefit is it improves mental health. So we’re happier. And it also another key benefit is it, we have an increase in worker flexibility. And so that really targets we have more work life balance, and we have greater engagement, which also means we have lower turnover. And so again, join me next week, because I’m gonna do a deep dive into these three key benefits. But I hope for today, you can maybe challenge your thinking around, you know, is it possible to work less? And, you know, there might be some very big benefits of doing that. And you know, we want to be very intentional about that. But again, today, we talked about three key points. So first, how much are we working anyway, let’s get the lay of the land. Second, we talked about the costs of too much work. And we talked about three main costs of working too much. And then finally, we talked about working less for big benefits. And we talked about, can you start to consider ways to work last, we talked about different work models. And then I introduced you to three key benefits of a reduced work, we get three key benefits of working last. And so next week, join me as we do a deep dive into these benefits so you can see what might be workable for you and just thinking about small steps. Looking at it as an experiment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:15
So in the meantime, head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/183-isitpossibletoworkless. So one more time? That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/183-isitpossibletoworkless. Of course, I’ve got lots of resources with the show notes to direct you to some of that research. And I’ll also link to my recent podcast on seven effective coping skills. For sure. Consider joining me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith where every week I have lots more resources associated with every podcast. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai