Pursue What Matters
Episode 184: 3 Benefits of Working Less
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
So last week, I shared that it is possible to work less. And today I’m going to share three key benefits of working less. So working less can be a great move for you and your organization.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So last week, on the podcast, I asked the question, is it possible to work less? And the answer was, yes, it’s totally possible, I shared some of the research, pointing that direction. And today, I’m going to make the case for why you should consider working less. And I’ve got three key benefits for you and your team to consider. And again, these are benefits that are good personally and professionally, right. These are benefits that are good for your teams and for your organization. So we definitely want to pay attention to this. Of course, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So helping you to lead with clarity, where are you going? Why does it matter? Helping you to lead with curiosity? Do you have self awareness so that you can lead yourself? Well, first? And third? Do you have the skills to lead and build a community. And so today, we’re really going to focus primarily on helping you to lead and build a community and really consider whether some of these benefits could benefit your team at work. So there are three key benefits that I introduced to you last week. So I’ll go over each of these. And then of course, we’ll do a deep dive into each one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:01
So the first benefit of working less is higher productivity. My goodness, you’ve got me, right, like you had me at higher productivity, like, that’s really very cool. And it really goes against conventional wisdom that how can you be more productive if you’re working less hours, but it’s totally true. And then benefits two and three, I’m going to put them I mean to discuss them together, because it makes the most sense, the benefits two and three, are that working less boost your health and your well being. And so that’s pretty awesome. And, of course, that has important implications for our, our engagement at work or work, life, all of that. And then so those are the three benefits, but then I’m going to wrap up by sharing a specifically the benefits for organization. So this is the part of the podcasts that you would send to your, to your boss or to your leader, maybe send them the whole thing. So they have a little more context. But there are real benefits for organizations as well. And so that will be our path today. So let’s jump right in with the first benefit of working less, which is higher productivity. So all of the research that I’m going to share, I will include links on the show notes, so you can access those articles, you can access some of that research. So the big advantage of working fewer weekly hours is higher productivity, right? It’s just it’s very clear in the research. So people work better. And one of the ways that they work better is they become more efficient. Efficiency is a really good thing. So if we can pair efficiency with effectiveness, that right there is the magic. And so when people work less, they become more efficient. And then we’ll talk about the effectiveness piece, because that’s also true. When we work more hours, we become less effective and less efficient. So research shows that people get more done when they work fewer hours, and less work done when they work more hours.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:05
So I remember growing up, my mother always said she was a very busy woman. But she said that busy people are the most productive people, because they’re kind of forced to be right. And of course, you’ve probably heard this term this, this message, right? Like if you want something done, give it to a busy person, because you’re just dry like these constraints force you to be more productive and more effective. And I certainly recognize that in my own life. And so again, that research that shows people get more done when they work fewer hours, and less done when they work more hours. So for example, a 2014 study from Stanford University suggested that productivity plummets, like falls off a cliff after working 50 hours a week. So So some other experts suggest 35 hours as really the optimal work time, but for productivity begins to decline. Because right, as we add more hours, we have less attention, we have less energy, right? We, we really start to, to lose the train of focus that’s so important for effective work. So one school of thought recommends only working six hours per day that that’s really, if we think about it in terms of a day, six hours is really a sweet spot. But it’s right like it’s not, it’s it’s these long hours, that some companies are pushing, really, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, right? They’re, they’re harming their employees, but they’re also harming their productivity and their successes and organization. So John, true target focus, and Associate Professor, Professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto shares that a typical day in a standard work week of 40 hours is not set up for efficiency, and I think probably most of us would agree, so he shows, he shares your energy cannot be sustained for eight hours straight, you’re stretching people’s attention over a long period of time, which is hard for them to do, right. It’s just it’s not how our brains are set up. And so, so the net result, he says is that we’re going to be less effective. And so to compensate, many workers spend chunks of time in an eight hour work day, scrolling through social media, shopping online, or sending texts. So right like we’re, we’re there all those hours, but it’s really not effective time. So a 2015 study showed that workers can spend up to two and a half hours a day, cyber loafing on the job, so just wasting time, right, and definitely not focus on the job. Okay.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:07
So we, we want to be careful about that. But when we think about working less hours, right, it changes the focus from hours worked to productivity. So that is from busy work to the right work. So this comes to us from Rachel service. She’s the CEO of Melbourne based workplace culture consulting and training firm. It’s called happiness concierge. That’s kind of fun. So right, instead of really looking at how many hours did you work we really want to pay attention to have you done the right work in that time. So one high profile study in Iceland shout out to Iceland, I love it so much. That was conducted from 2015 to 2019 followed more than 2500 government workers across very diverse workplaces. That went from a 40 hour workweek to either a 35 or 36 Hour Workweek with the same pay. Okay, so they just reduced the workweek. They shortened the workweek. And I talked about that last week on the podcast, so from 40 hours to either 35 or 36. But the the pay was the same. And that was one of the recommendations that I made last time, if you shrink those work hours, the salary or the pay should remain the same. So this is what they found with that four year study in Iceland. So they found that the majority of offices saw productivity either remain the same, or improve, right, which that supports the case that we’re making. And so here is a quote from William strong, the director of autonomy, which is a UK based think tank. So he said, when we talk to staff and a debrief, they say they have a greater awareness of the workload. And it’s a more heads down atmosphere, which makes people more more efficient, right. And so, you, you get right to your tasks, because you know, you just have a limited amount of time to do that. And so I certainly recognize this in my life, I’ve always had it hasn’t always practically happened, but my schedule has always been a shortened one where it’s more like six hours instead of eight hours. You know, always been full time status, all of that. But I, I or most of the time, I did have a couple of brief windows where I moved down to lower than that, but I have mostly done a six hour compressed workday as a way of helping to manage work life, and you know, make sure that I have time and home in the afternoons for my kiddos that has felt very important to me and very meaningful to me.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:53
And so I’ve like my whole career has been on a shortened workday and even a shortened work Work Week, because for the most part, I don’t I’m not in the office on Fridays, I might be doing things on Friday. But I try as much as possible to not be in the office on Friday. And what I find is I am very focused, like I know exactly what I need to take care of, in that time. And I can just say, anecdotally, I think it has helped me to be more productive. I don’t do much lollygagging at work. And right, we want to make sure there’s still built in time for connection and collaboration, because that’s a really important function of work, that when people have less time at work, they’re more focused. And so, again, related to the Icelands study, employees were more incentivized to get tasks done when they’re given the reward of a shorter workweek. So think about the carrot of a Friday off, kept them going, right. So it’s like I can push through, because I just need to do this for two more days, rather than like, Oh, I’ve got three more days going until the weekend. So another thing that we find is that fewer hours, also mean a more streamlined schedule in workplaces.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:10
So things like excessive meetings and extended lunches get cut down, you have shorter meetings, that’s kind of a plus, you have asynchronous collaboration. So email, chat, shared documents, so more of the work is getting done that way. And so what they found from this Iceland study, is that the key to achieving shorter hours was often a combination of flexibility and how tasks were completed. Flexibility and how hours of work and shifts were constructed. Right? So how are we setting this all up. And then combined with interest and engagement in the process of shortening hours from the workplace, right? So you had to have buy in from your leadership, you had to have leaders who were open to this and not dragging their, their heels or not saying this is never going to work. So right, we need to have flexibility in how tasks are completed. And that’s a really important feature of autonomy, we need to have autonomy about how we get things done. And then flexibility about how hours of work and shifts were constructed. Because you know, what works for you might not work for everyone else on the team. And there’s, you know, there’s some give and take and some trade offs there that need to be paid attention to. And then again, the last key is there’s got to be interest and engagement from the powers that be so otherwise, it’s probably not going to be very effective.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:39
So you have got to have buy in at that level. So that’s the first benefit of working less is higher productivity, I think we can all get behind that. And now let’s talk about benefits two and three. I’m going to talk about these together, because there’s a lot of overlap. But the second and third benefits are that working less boosts your health and well being which again, awesome. So we have happier, healthier and more engaged workers. So when we have shorter hours, we’re more well rested. That makes sense, right? So in a 2017 study, they showed that cutting working hours by 25%, which is usually what we’re looking at with reduced short workweek, improved sleep and lowered stress. So there’s also it leads to more effective management of complex care issues. So right think about parenting, think about, if you’re caring for an older parent, think about family appointments, right? Like doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, when we have a shortened work week, we are we’re able to more effectively manage those kinds of family issues without that cutting in to our work. And that’s super helpful. So research from the 90s showed that working only six hours a day, improved workers family lives, and I think probably most of us can see that that’s like a kind of a no brainer. But I think the important news is that we also see that it it results in more productivity at work. So people are less they spend less time distracted by personal tasks. When they’re at work, right? Like when they’re at work, they’re doing work tasks, and then they have more time at home to take care of home tasks. There’s decreased burnout, and there’s decreased bore out, right. So think about the quiet quit, where we’re bored. We’re not really showing up or cyber loafing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:31
So studies have shown that more positive work cultures, make workers more engaged. No shocker there, there’s a greater overall appreciation of work. There’s increased retention and job satisfaction, so we’re happier at work. And of course, workers in less positive environments are more likely to make errors show reduced productivity, or display absenteeism, right? So they start coming in late they start missing they start having lots of sick days. is. And so obviously we want to pay attention to that. And then a 2021 study, so definitely more recent, which followed Swedish workers for a decade. So right a decade of following these workers, they showed that reduced working hours resulted in reduced stress, reduce exhaustion, and reduce negative emotion, right. So again, that happiness factor really shows up. And then a 2019 study showed that workers are 13% more productive when they’re happier, right? So we kind of get these pile on effects, right. So when we’re working less, we’re more productive. But when we’re working less, we’re also happier, which also leads to more productivity. So we kind of get a bit of a virtuous cycle going, which is cool. So this comes to us from Jim Stanford, an economist and Director of the Center for future work at The Australia Institute. He said, There is absolutely no doubt that when people have a good work life balance, and get enough sleep time with their family and leisure time, they work much more productively and effectively. So it’s something that we all know intuitively, but the research for sure backs that up. So there you go, those are the second and third benefits. So the three key benefits to working less, include higher productivity, boost to health and well being and then I just want to finish up our discussion today with benefits for organizations.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:31
So some of those, we’ve kind of peppered in there. But this is specifically for your for you leaders, right you stakeholders who have some some hierarchical authority and decision making power. So what are the benefits of working less to organizations? So higher profitability, right? So for the organization’s leaders, right, like you had me at higher profitability, because that’s a that’s a big thing, and lower turnover. And if we know anything about turnover, we know it’s incredibly expensive. It’s so expensive. When you have high turnover, plus, if burnt out, people quit, something that’s becoming more common, right? We saw that with the pandemic, the great resignation, people are burned out, people are less connected, they’re more likely to quit. So when we have burned out people’s a less health, less well being less productivity, they tend to leave. And of course, the organization incurs costs to replace them. And a big whammy is they lose the expertise of the person who leaves right because you got to train people, and you got to get them up to speed. So another benefit to organization is lower absenteeism. So folks are missing work less often, they’re, they’re late less often, they’re taking less sick leave. They’re taking less time to care for loved ones, right? Because they have options for that now. And again, in a 2017 study, Swedish researchers found work found nurses who worked 35 hours a week instead of 40. They took fewer sick days, which of course reduced employer costs. So there’s the case, there’s certainly more to be said about that. But there’s a good case for the benefit to organizations. So right these are really important factors to pay attention to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:29
And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the resources for this episode. Of course, I’ll include links to all of the research that I shared, you can find that at www.drmelissasmith.com/184-benefitsofworkingless so one more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/184-benefitsofworkingless. In the meantime, please join me at Instagram @dr.melissasmith, I always have a lot more resources related to the podcast every day and I would love to hear from you and hear hear about your experience with this. 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