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Why we are embracing a shorter work week

We’ve been inspired by recent research to operate on a shorter than standard work week, working dynamic hours based on demand.

A recent Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research study of 6500 Australians found that cognitive function steadily increased for every hour worked up to 25 hours a week. But the study revealed that for every hour worked beyond 25 hours, cognitive function steadily declined.

The study analysed the work habits and brain-testing results of 3,000 men and 3,500 women over the age of 40 in Australia. The participants’ results in three different cognitive skill areas were tested, including a memory score test, a reading test and a perceptive ability test.

“In all three cases it was found around 25-30 hours of work per week will maximise your cognitive skill,” said Professor Colin McKenzie at Keio University who took part in the study. “For cognitive functioning, working far too much is worse than not working at all,” he said.

“In the beginning work stimulates the brain cells. The stress associated with work physically and psychologically kicks in at some point and that affects the gains you get from working.”

The shorter work week is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1930, the Kellogg cereal company reduced cereal-plant production schedules from three eight-hour shifts to four six-hour shifts in the company’s factory, hiring more people to maintain production. Over seven years, the company reported that employees were more efficient and work-related accidents were reduced.

Why did the eight hour work day become the norm anyway? In the late 18th century, when companies started to maximise the output of their factories, running them 24/7 was critical. To make things more efficient, people had to work more. Back then, 10-16 hour days were the norm, but realising these long work days weren’t sustainable, a guy called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day.  His slogan was “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

Now there’s growing support for a shorter work week. As times have changed, so has the workplace, mostly brought about by the way we use technology. Underlying demographic trends have also affected the way we work – there are more women in the workforce, and housing affordability has sky-rocketed, pushing us further away from CBDs. We can now work flextime, part-time and even telecommute.

Bestselling author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss is a huge advocate of the four-hour work week. In his book, Ferris says, “Life doesn’t have to be so damn hard. Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-to-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation.”

And let’s face it, a shorter work week forces you to focus on what’s important. It’s all about being productive. When there is less time to work, there is less time to waste. In fact, another report I came across recently says that today’s workforce spends 61% of their time managing work rather than doing it.

In his popular blog, Ferriss says of productivity, “What you do is more important than how you do everything else, and doing something well does not make it important.” According to Ferriss, “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” But more on productivity another time.

Many organisations are already adopting alternatives to the conventional 40-hour workweek. Those that don’t may find themselves outpaced, as the 40-hour approach works its way into obsolescence.

The Ocius team are (quite) a few candles short of 40, but we’re all for embracing a better work life balance. And the nature of our work means we have to be flexible to the needs of time zones, as we have clients in US, UK and Australia, so at times we work around the clock.

Having this flexibility enables us to work more efficiently in many other ways. We use Accelo (a project management tool we also implement for our clients) in order to track our work. Clients can log in through the portal and see our work at any time. This enables everyone to see every piece of communication, which is absolutely vital to us.

Our last fouremployees have all been hired on flexible hour contracts. This allows them to maintain a healthier work life balance, and also undertake other interests outside of work. If someone wants to go to the beach for an hour in the day, they can. If they have free time in the evening and want to pump out a mass of work uninterrupted, they have the tools to make it happen.

We’re giving the shorter work week a red hot crack, and we’ll keep you updated on our progress.