As a child, I often found myself standing in front of the house many evenings, waiting for my dad’s return from work. Sometimes, he got home at about 8:30 pm. Most times, he got home after I had gone to bed and in the mornings, he left home at around 6:15 am just so he could get to the office by 8 o’clock. That is how I grew up; barely seeing my dad’s face during the day except for some holidays. I used to complain, however, now, I am working and guess what, I have the same routine; getting to work by 8 o’clock and closing at 5 o’clock” – Samuel Fosuhene, a young university graduate. The question of “How long should we work in a day?” has for long been given little attention basically due to the belief that people who desire to work less hours are lazy.
How did the world come to agree on working hours that made sure we are away from home and our families for the most part of the day?
Historically, before the 8-hour work schedule, labour hours in many places averaged 12-hours for six days. In the 1920s, Henry Ford became a pioneer of the 40-hour work week when he made all Ford Motors’ employees work for 8-hours a day for 5 days in a week without a reduction in wages. Given the impressive results Ford Motors attained upon implementing that new policy, other corporations adopted the 40-hour work week, which eventually became the accepted norm. Thanks to Ford Motors, we would have been working 12-hours per day and six days in a week, leaving us with only one weekend. Interestingly, one of the key reasons Henry Ford stated for reducing the working hours of his staff was to increase the profitability of his company. He explained that when employees (who also form part of the consumers) have enough time for leisure, they are able to also experience product and services in the market. By this, they get to find use for such products and thus make the effort to acquire them, thereby positively impacting on the level of purchases of goods and services and eventually affecting corporations’ revenue generation. So the argument for less working hours is not an entirely employee focused argument but also another way corporations can improve their revenue generation.
Another benefit is increased productivity and output, which companies can derive from flexible working schedule for their employees. Assume a bank decides to run a shift system where the first batch works from 7:00 am to 2 pm and the second, from 2pm to 9pm. Give each staff about an hour’s break, it means the employees would practically work for 6 hours, totaling 12 hours per day. Due to the reduction in working hours, the company can agreeably pay its staff according to the new working hours, which incidentally, will be less. Even though due to the shift system, the company will now have to employ more personnel, the general cost in relation to the total of productive hours will be less because total productivity is going to be higher.
According to research and as stated in Tim Ferris’ book, The Four Hour Work Week, the less time available for a task, the higher its importance and the more likely it would be performed within time. What this means is that a person is more likely to complete a task when they are aware they have very limited time
available to complete the task as compared to when they are allotted a lot of time. Thus, would it not be true that employees would be more productive when they have reduced hours to complete a considerably adequate task?
We have come to delight in being busy, while we rarely pay attention to the need to be productive. Using the bank example stated above for instance, having two separate employees perform the same role for six hours each, consecutively, means the business can be actively opened for 12 hours. In addition, if such a system is practiced by more companies, the problem of unemployment would have been reduced significantly as more personnel would be needed, leading to more people being employed. This is not good for only the job seekers but also good for the employers as they get to recruit more skillful personnel at a relatively lower cost. Psychologically, it is also proven that when employees have a healthy lifestyle, they are more encouraged to give forth their best and thus become more productive while forming a great work environment that attracts the best of talents.
In the corporate world, many managers do admit that many times, one might have to sacrifice his family in order to focus on their career. Today, employers cannot be indifferent about their staff’s emotional stability. Employees having enough time to attend to their personal matters alone, can enable them resolve many of their challenges such that they are likely to be happier and more interested in giving off the best in their work. Though this may not be sufficient basis for a more flexible working schedule, it is worthy to note that the companies that would be pioneering such changes will have more benefits that will impact on their sustainability.