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Fewer Hours = Higher Productivity

30 October 2018

Less equals More

What is the most well-known economy in the EU that isn’t doing well?  “Greece”, says the majority.  It has the 4th highest average total working hours/person/year in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  Only Korea (#3), Costa Rica (#2), and Mexico (#1) are worse.  Mexico at 2255 annual working hours has the poorest GDP return per person.

Is there a relationship?

It certainly seems so.  Looking at the countries (2017) with the highest GDP creation/person, it is led by tiny Luxembourg (1512 hours), then Ireland (1879), Norway (1424), Switzerland (1674), and finally the U.S.A (1783).

All of them have significantly lower annual hours worked than the least productive economies in the world.  Our largest trading partner, and our neighbor to the north, Canada, is 13th, at 1703 annual hours/person.

A Journey of Discovery

Sweden is well-known for cutting edge work-life balance experiments.  In one test, working days were decreased to just six hours (without affecting pay) and productivity blossomed incredibly.  With the introduction of the 30 hour work week, they found decreased absenteeism, higher energy, better employee health overall, and greater productivity.  A staggered schedule let them cover all the bases.

Facing more elected early retirement, burnout, poorer health, and falling productivity, it was a worthy experiment.  They loved the results and the Swedish Gothenburg City Council is looking to make it the new standard.

Why do fewer hours increase productivity?

Another experiment conducted in Australia, saw the workday of a financial firm reduced to just five hours.  Management was stunned to see productivity jump, sick-leave vanish, and enthusiasm leap to new heights.  Employees arrive at 8 or 9 am, and are out the door by 1 or 2 pm every day, with all the work accomplished.

Great savings occurred with the reduction of countless team-meetings.  With limited time to complete tasks, workers were unwilling to waste any of it.  They found ways to stay informed without necessitating listening to the inane drone of a self-important executive.  Putting an exec’s vanity in the backseat seemed like a very small price for such a remarkable productivity increase.

Are we Ready?

It’s a faster pace and some people can’t handle that sort of change.  People may leave for a conventional employment situation; many more will line up to join your organization to take advantage of more time with family, less stress, better health, and the enthusiasm generated when everything is seen as important.  Get in; do your job; get out.  When you aren’t paid for hours spent, but for function and accomplishment, it’s an inspirational way to work!

Working 55+ hours per week (based on records of 600,000 participants) creates a 133% risk of a stroke compared to a 40-hour week. Organizations are reviewing their policies.  It is hard enough getting good people, but employee enthusiasm is going to wane quickly when people start dying at their desks…

One surprisingly acceptable form of death called karoshi, or “death through overwork”, has Japan’s government making new laws to enforce the 40 hour work week.  When 22% of the workforce labors 49+ hours per week, and use fewer than 5 days per year vacation, trouble is brewing.

One 36 year old Japanese trading employee works 14 hours per day (70 hours per week); she used only 8 vacation days of her 20 day entitlement (six, as sick days); she also says nobody else uses their vacation days at her company because it is seen as “an insult to more committed employees”.

What Needs to Change

People are gaining weight from long bouts of sitting at desks.  We must recognize that people pay attention to a task for a fixed period, beyond which they accomplish nothing.  Productivity, health, and thought are enhanced when they take frequent breaks and get up hourly to walk around for several minutes.  Changing tasks or simply defocusing and letting their brains relax makes them more effective.

We may not be ready for five or six-hour workdays in this country.  We’re not nearly as forward-thinking as other countries in that regard; it will likely take some clever people to get the ball rolling here.


We need to encourage people to work differently; to find their own unique rhythm for how they work best.  No tasks until 11 am?  Fine, arrive at 11.  We should trust them if they are getting the job done.

Managers who insist everyone stay at their desks and “look busy” are outdated.  When someone has completed their work for the day, shoo them out the door and let them go home; give them a chance to recharge in their own way and they’ll be better employees when they return.

The Takeaway

Militant 8 hour work periods cause lower productivity, exhaustion, stress, and poor engagement.  Just think about the last time you were “all done” at 2 pm and now faced three more hours of sitting there because you have no more work that makes sense for the moment.

People have rhythms.  Employees should be able to customize their workday so that the most difficult tasks occur at their performance peaks, occurring 3-4 times per day.  Low grade activities can be tackled whenever they reach one of the troughs that occur between those peaks.

As workers, we have portable devices if we need to be “phone-connected”.  If we’re going to need a keyboard or large monitor to deal with customers, wandering off could still be problematic.

For those that need to be at their desk most of the time, there are alternatives.  Consider an All-in-One Desk Bike for example.  Having a Desk Bike is a terrific solution.  They’re silent, low-impact, won’t make you sweaty, and they allow you to keep the blood circulating to your brain and body to keep you at the top of your game.  They’re also easy to put aside when you need the space.  You have options… Give us a call today.