Burnout is a topic that comes up often in my line of work.So many clients come to me desperate to escape jobs that have gradually consumed their entire lives. It’s not a pretty sight, and it’s a no-win situation for all parties— the cost of burnout is steep for employees and employers both.
So I was fascinated when Amazon recently announced their new 30-hour workweek initiative. According to press releases, Amazon intends to test the program with a small group from the HR team first. The program allows employees to work 30 hours per week for 75% of their salary but retain full benefits. Employees in the program have flexibility built into their schedules: they work core hours of 10 am to 2 pm, Monday to Thursday, and work the remaining hours whenever they choose.
Amazon seems to be onto something here. For one thing, the 40-hour workweek is somewhat arbitrary in this day and age. It was created by Francis Perkins in the early 1900’s during the Roosevelt Administration to protect factory workers from being overworked and exploited. With the technological innovations our nation has witnessed the past 100-plus years, it’s simply not necessary for employees to work that many hours. Yet, the 40-hour workweek is still the golden standard and actually seems to be increasing, despite the fact that advancements in technology continue to save us more and more time— the average employee works about 47 hours per week, according to a recent Gallop poll.
Companies focused on their bottom line certainly have a hand in advocating for keeping the workweek at 40 hours or more, but is it really helping their bottom line? We seem to have gotten so accustomed to this standard that we have failed to stop and consider its actual effectiveness as it applies to the 2016 workforce.
The reality is that an eight-plus hour workday is not only unnecessary for most employees of today,it actually pushes the limits of human focus and concentration. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review indicates that experts (in a variety of different fields, including athletes, academics, and professionals) report spending no more than five to six hours per day focused on their area of expertise, with most reporting that they spent only a couple of hours per day at the start of their day when their focus is sharpest. Beyond five to six hours of focused concentration, productivity either plateaus or declines. What this seems to indicate is that the extra two to three hours in the standard, full-time workday (or more, for the multitudes of employees who are banking tons of overtime weekly) are not very productive. The result is a waste of the employee’s time and the employer’s money.
It’s not just about productivity, though. Employers need new methods of attracting and retaining good talent, because the landscape of the working world is changing. A recent Deloitte survey of more than 7,000 Millennials shows that levels of loyalty to employers are low among this generation— 66% reported that they expect to leave their current employer within the next four years. Considering that Millennials now make up the largest segment of our workforce, savvy employers should make it a priority to reduce their turnover rates with this group.
One thing is clear: Millennials know what they want. Millennials want more control over their careers and their workdays. They want to work for innovative companies. They reported that pay and financial benefits are important when it comes to choosing employment, but they also value work/life balance, opportunities for leadership, and flexible work schedules.
So are employers listening? Amazon seems to be. Their 30-hour work week program offers employees 2 of the top 4 factors that are important to them—work/life balance and flexible work schedule. Time will tell how Amazon fares with their new program, but if the result is anything like several other companies that have tested similar models (Brath, Svartedalens, KPMG, and Deloitte), the typical 9-5 will soon be a thing of the past.
…And, thankfully, so will burnout.