If you ever get the feeling that the 8-hour workday is as dated as fax machines, overhead projectors, and filing cabinets, you’d be correct. Sure, the 40-hour workweek was once thought to be nothing less than revolutionary. The idea was developed to protect manual laborers during the Industrial Revolution. This more humane approach to people management required that employers slash the number of hours their crews had to work on the factory floor.
But that was over two-hundred years ago.
The idea that dedication, commitment, and productivity are somehow connected to working longer hours is antiquated, and recent surveys actually prove the exact opposite. One study found that people could – if they stay focused – get their work done in about 5 hours per day. Another study revealed that the ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. People who maintained this schedule had a unique level of focus in their work.
So if longer hours don’t matter, what does? There are some exciting alternatives to the 8-hour workday that HR leaders should consider to boost motivation, engagement, and productivity all at once.
Transition from completing tasks to finding novel solutions
The digital age has revolutionized the nature of work. A productive employee used to be one who dutifully completed a set of predefined tasks. Fast forward to the here and now: people at work are expected to excel in critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity to devise novel solutions.
This is why whatever workplace practices discourage creativity needs to be reformed and reshaped to better inspire their people. Studies show that the 8-hour workday actually prevents people from getting into that all-important creative flow. People aren’t machines: our creative abilities naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. But the 8-hour workday prioritizes things like availability, responsiveness, and meeting attendance over creative problem-solving.
Deep learning is the key to your people’s productivity
As such, today’s workplace puts a premium on helping people exercise their brains, not merely having them complete a daily to-do list. A revealing report found that the demand for higher cognitive skills, including creativity, will rise by almost 10% by 2030. Another study found that people are up to 500% more productive when they’re in a state of creative flow. So what can your organization to do get your people’s creative juices flowing?
Your department heads should remove as much clutter from their team members’ work in favor of about four hours of daily deep learning. Deep learning is your people’s ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that will allow your top talents to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Therefore, 8-hour workdays wouldn’t even be necessary.
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Encourage your people to focus on creativity
To maximize deep learning at work, every effort should be made to greatly reduce workplace tasks that discourage creativity. This can be done by shortening meetings, whittling down administrative tasks, putting an end to constant task switching, and instead, investing in an automated workflow system that makes projects and approvals easier to complete.
Accommodating your people’s wild creativity also means accommodating their unique lifestyles and work habits. You may want to consider a flextime approach that allows your people to select when they begin and end their workday; a rotating schedule that alternates the days worked and days off each week; or remote working, which would allow your people to work from wherever and whenever, as they see fit.
The traditional 40-hour workweek has run its course. By offering your people the opportunity to pick a schedule that best suits their individual needs you’re likely to help them improve their sense of well-being. But flexible work is more than a feel-good idea. When people are encouraged to use their creativity to develop novel solutions, their productivity is maximized. And, when your people can spot and solve issues quickly, they’ll raise the overall quality of your company’s performance.