It’s been over a century since Henry Ford reimagined a shorter workday in order to increase productivity. A recent study suggests we are overdue for a new version of “9-to-5.”
The average office worker is productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes each day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average American workday at 8.8, meaning less than one-third of a typical office day is devoted to work. Reading websites, social media, and non-work-related discussions top the list of avoidance behaviors and coming in at #4: searching for a new job.
The core problem is that both employers and employees are pretending we stop being human and turn into productivity robots when we come to work. The very idea of work/life balance suggests that life stops when we come to work. Spending time on personal issues, surfing the web, and chatting are the result of our basic human instincts overtaking an outdated concept of productivity.
The truth is that we know our brains can only take so much focus. Taking breaks, connecting with other humans, and knocking essential items off of our non-work to-do list could be built into our days, and research suggests that would actually make us more productive. The organizational impulse to try to extract more labor during working hours might actually be shortening attention spans and making the problem worse over time.
What if we completely reimagined the workday? Sticking with an 8.8-hour framework, what if we built-in breaks, social time, mindfulness (to help train us to be better at focusing), and structured programs to help workers take care of challenging personal issues like mental and relational health, physical well-being, financial wellness, and personal development?
Imagine a work “place” (it could be virtual) where at the end of every day your personal to-do list had gotten shorter, your well-being improved, and you had made meaningful progress in the areas of life that matter most to you. This is not fantasy, and specifically devoting on-the-clock time to these very human needs could actually increase productivity while helping to attract, develop, and retain talent.
Organizations can stop pretending people turn into robots when they come to work and start using the precious hours people share with them each day to help everyone get more from work.