The history of the workday is a complex and extremely interesting one. For example, most anthropologists, sociologists and historians believe that the average working day in the hunter-gatherer societies was less than five hours. The industrial revolution ushered in the inhuman working days where many people worked 12 to 16 hours, six or seven days a week.
Due to a combination of socio-political and economic reasons, workdays got shorter over the course of the 20th century. This culminated shortly after World War II when the concept of a 40-hour work week was established, i.e. working 5 days a week for 8 hours.
Since then, the workday has been continuously shortened in many countries around the world and it truly does feel that the 40-hour workday is on its way out.
Examples from Around the World
In the majority of European countries, the work week has long dropped from 40 hours to 35 and under. While much of it has to do with the relatively large number of paid free days, it also has to do with countries regulating weeks to less than 35 hours. For instance, in France, everything over 35 hours a week is considered overtime. In Netherlands, work week is 28 hours, with the tendency of dropping to 21. Earlier this month, Sweden introduced a 6-hour workday in certain industries.
Even in countries like Japan and South Korea, where working long hours and 6-day weeks is nothing out of the ordinary, work weeks have been getting shorter in the last couple of decades.
The Mythical 5-Hour Workday
One of the concepts that is being thrown around these days and that many companies are adopting is the 5-hour workday where, for instance, people come in at 8 a.m. and work until 1 p.m. Such workdays do not have to include an hour-long lunch break, which means the actual worktime is only 2 hours shorter. You can read about a company adopting such a practice in this article. There are books being published on the subject, let alone articles which speak of the virtues of a 5-hour workday.
The Case for a 5-Hour Workday
Once you really start digging a bit deeper, the 5-hour workday starts making a lot of sense really. For instance, technology has made much of the office work more efficient, saving a ton of time for a large number of white-collar professionals.
A shorter workday also does away with long periods of time when people are not as concentrate as they are when they only work 5 hours. Let's be honest, anyone who has worked an 8-hour day knows how much of it is wasted on stuff that is not work-related.
Moreover, since the workday is shorter, it is much easier to identify truly crucial tasks and prioritize work in a way that is more efficient. People also become better at prioritizing their own time and they become more likely to properly work out the best schedule for themselves.
Another huge reason why 5-hour workdays make sense is that the employees will feel much better about their job. It is no small feat giving someone 3 hours of their life back every day. This is something people will acknowledge for sure. This will not only boost the productivity in the workplace, but also minimize employee turnover. Moreover, since they will have more free time, employees might spend a deal of it pursuing added education or honing some new skills.
How To Adopt It
If you are a business owner and you are considering adopting a 5-hour workday, there are a few things that you must understand. For one, this will not work for any kind of business. For instance, if you run a small manufacturing plant of any kind, your output will be directly limited by the number of work hours. Cutting down on workhours will negatively impact your profits, no matter how you cut it.
Also, it is absolutely essential that people still fulfill their tasks. You are still running a business that needs to make money and if people are not getting the job done in 5 hours, you will encounter some real problems, very soon. Your employees need to be aware of this. They need to be aware of the fact they will have to be extra productive in the short time they are in the office.
A good idea would be to implement a trial period of, for example, three months during which you would introduce this shortened work week. If, after three months, you see that your company is still meeting goals and that your bottom line is not affected in a negative way, it is time to roll it out full-time.
The good news is that if you play your cards right and if you have the right team for a 5-hour work week, you will definitely see an improvement to your company's functioning.
You will also have become a part of the demise of the 8-hour work day.