Rethinking the 40-Hour Workweek

The 40-hour workweek has been the foundation of professional schedules for decades — but with the nature of work changing, does this schedule still make sense? Your organization should be open to other approaches to get the most out of your workers.

Problems With Working 40 Hours a Week

The 40-hour workweek doesn’t give your employees much flexibility to adjust their schedules based on their workloads. In most jobs, some weeks will be busier than others, so a fixed 40-hour week doesn’t always fit.

This schedule can also create burnout. It pushes employees to show up for at least 40 hours, even when they need a break or don’t have work to do. They’ll never work fewer than 40 hours but will put in longer weeks when they have to.

Not every employee is at his or her best at the same time, either. Some people are early birds and others like to work late at night. If you commit your whole staff to the exact same schedule, they can’t function at their highest level.

Alternatives to Tradition

Employees appreciate more flexible scheduling, especially if they have jobs where their workload changes every week. You could give them the flexibility to increase or decrease their hours each week to fit their responsibilities, so long as they get everything done. You could also give employees more time to work from home. This way they get a break from the office without actually taking time off.

With a flexible scheduling model, you could require employees be in the office at certain times. For example, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, everyone has to be at the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — now people know when they can schedule group, in-house meetings.

Finally, if you still want employees to put in 40 hours every week, another option is to switch to longer days, like four 10-hour days a week. This could help employees cut down on their commuting time, so they get an extra benefit without you changing workloads.

Maximize Efficiency

To maximize workplace efficiency, think about what your employees do and if the 40-hour workweek is appropriate. If an employee is doing tasks that need to be completed on a schedule, like handling calls during business hours, a 40-hour week might make sense. However, with project-based work, it doesn’t make as much sense.

Don’t just stick to a 40-hour workweek because of tradition. Employees are demanding more flexibility, and your organization can rethink old approaches. Alternative work schedules — like letting employees work from home — have also been shown to increase productivity, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Additionally, ask your employees what they would like. They know best how they work productively, so get their opinions. Set ways to measure their effectiveness in the new scheduling approach, and monitor their productivity to see if it’s working. Sticking to a 40-hour workweek in the face of a better alternative may imply that you don’t trust your employees enough to do their jobs without you forcing them, which isn’t a morale booster.

With some planning and employee insights, you can pick the right work schedule for your organization and get the best quality output.

David Rodeck is a professional freelance writer based out of Delaware. Before writing full-time, he worked as a health- and life-insurance agent. He specializes in making insurance, investing and financial planning understandable.

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