Want More Productivity? Maybe It’s Time For Rethinking the Work Week

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Mar 3, 2015

If you’re a full-time worker in America, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep.

That’s according to the American Time Use Survey, which examined 125,000 responses to calculate how much sleep we’re getting, and what we’re doing instead of it.

The simple conclusion the survey came to is this: We’re simply working too much.

The 9-to-5 schedule problem

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need seven (7) to nine (9) hours of sleep per night, but American adults report getting less than seven (7) hours of sleep on weeknights, with many making up for it on the weekends. Compared to these “normal” sleepers, “short” sleepers (who are getting six (6) hours or less on weeknights) worked 1.5 more hours on weekdays and nearly two (2) hours more on weekends and holidays.

Being a nation of workaholics is not good for our health – sleep refreshes our brains and repairs our immune system, so the less of it we get the more susceptible to stress and illness we become.

The reason we’re losing so much sleep to the 9-to-5 schedule may be that not everyone fits the 9-to-5 mold. The body clocks of some people make them evening types, and others morning types. Recent research into the behaviors of so-called “night owls” and “early birds” found that night owls reach their mental peak in the evening hours, and vice-versa.

This means that several of the people you work with, around 32 percent who identify themselves as night owls, are groggy in the morning and just hitting their peak as the whistle blows, the early birds are running out of gas around 2 pm, and everyone in between is just plain working too much anyway.

In other words, it’s time to re-think the antiquated 9-to-5, five-day work week.

More sleep leads to a big payoff

Treehouse, an online education company, traded work for more sleep in 2006 and it’s paying off big time.

After finding himself working 7 day weeks, CEO Ryan Carson had a moment of clarity, enacted a four-day work week (Mon-Thu) at his company, and never looked back. Treehouse’s revenues increased by 120 percent in 2014, and the company generates more than $10 million in sales annually with 70,000 customers.

The quality of work, I believe, is higher,” Carson told ThinkProgress. “32 hours of higher quality work is better than 40 hours of lower quality work.” On Mondays, “everyone’s invigorated and excited.”

The four-day work week also carries the added bonus of looking very attractive to job-seekers.

We regularly have new employees choose Treehouse over Facebook, Twitter, and other top-tier tech companies,” Carson explains. He thinks that others could follow Treehouse’s example. “Is it possible for everybody? No,” he says. “But I bet some huge percentage of companies can do it that just aren’t.”

More hours don’t mean more productivity

Research has found that putting in more than 60 hours a week yields a small productivity boost at first, but it’s only temporary, dropping off after three or four weeks. Other studies have confirmed this to be a short-term bump that actually harms productivity in the long run.

When workers put in less time, they tend to be more productive. For example, Greek workers put in 2,000 hours a year on average while German workers put in around 1,400, yet German productivity is around 70 percent higher.

Working fewer hours and getting more sleep is more than just a nice idea. It could be the difference between health and illness, and the key to boosting productivity in the workplace.

As technology makes it easier for us to be more flexible with work schedules, it’s time to ask: Does the 9-to-5 really work for you?

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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