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Your Digital Self: If the five-hour workday makes sense, why aren’t we doing it? First, employers have to stop obsessing over hours

Risk factors including cardiovascular disease, stress, depression and alcohol abuse are exacerbated by long work hours. Impressing your boss has never been more dangerous.

Let’s be honest: There’s little time for productivity in the standard eight-hour workday. Our bandwidth is spent on meetings, emails and instant messages, bureaucracy and administrative work that could be avoided or automated.

Even if you were given a full eight hours without distraction, you would still be less productive and less happy than a person working five hours a day.

Why, then, hasn’t the eight-hour workday been replaced by better alternatives if the case is clear-cut? Because implementing a new work regimen isn’t as simple as it looks.

Case in point: San Diego-based Tower Paddle Boards introduced the five-hour workday in 2015. The idea was simple: Give employees some time back, yet expect the same amount of work.

To maintain the same output during a significantly shorter workday, employees soon started scrambling for shortcuts and productivity hacks. After two years, it seemed they had gotten the hang of it, and the initiative resulted in a 50% revenue boost.

Work gets in the way of life

However, there was one significant change. When you punch in at 8 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m., work becomes a distraction — something that gets in the way of your real life. Furthermore, once you take away idle chatter, relaxed communication and unnecessary meetings in a company as small as Tower Paddle Boards (which at the time had only six employees), there’s little social glue left to keep the feeling of unity and company culture.

This lack of communication caused by a hectic schedule, crammed into a five-hour workday, made it increasingly hard for the company to retain valuable employees.

After tweaking the approach twice, the company’s CEO, Stephan Aarstol, had an epiphany: The employees didn’t view the five-hour workday as something special.

Once he started using it as a reward when the company was doing well and took it away when there was a rough patch, the business started taking off again.

Another remarkable thing happened: An eight-hour workday in times of uncertainty brought employees together and improved camaraderie. They felt they were a part of something greater and started appreciating the five-hour workday policy even more.

Tower’s is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when you evaluate the policy with an individual employee in mind. While an eight-hour workday may be undesirable for some, others actually perform better with more hours. Work-life balance is also different for every individual, and it greatly affects preferences.

What companies need

Finally, let’s not forget a company’s interests. Expecting employees to complete the same amount of work during significantly shorter work hours isn’t always feasible, and it’s important that management understand that.

Management is another big factor to consider. Regardless of the time allotted each day, there will always be employees who need guidance. These individuals cause issues in any environment — either by over-delegating their work to others, under-delegating and taking on more than they can handle, or evading their responsibilities and causing the entire operation to stall.

It’s up to the managers to set them straight or let them go, and to present the situation to higher-ups in a transparent way, so it’s evident that the workday policy isn’t at fault here, but rather the incompetence or laziness of certain employees.

These factors can often affect the evaluation of new company policies and distort their perceived effectiveness.

My approach

So, what would be the best approach? Here’s my take: When I was a freelancer, my daily workload was defined by milestones I’d set for projects I was working on. As long as those milestones were reached and I was sticking to a schedule, I could keep flexible work hours.

I spent my free time not only doing the things I love, but also reflecting on completed work and the ways to improve it.

That approach accomplished two things: I was always able to achieve my goals on time, and the following day I would come to work with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I would need to rework what I already did, which meant I had to work longer that particular day; other times, it was the opposite. Hours were never a focus for me, but rather project completion.

In this model, the reward for efficiency is the gift of spare time. If the work has been completed in a satisfactory way, there is no need for an employee to sit around and do nothing.

To make this happen, project managers should ensure realistic deadlines and split tasks in manageable chunks that take into account not only the needs of clients and the company, but also those of their employees. This could mean leaner revenue projections in the short term, but a rise in profitability in the long run, paired with greater employee satisfaction and a healthier work environment.

What’s your take on the five-hour workday? How would you organize the workday or week as an employee, or as a CEO? Let me know in the comment section below.

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