HRB: The Case for the 6-Hour Workday

HRB: The Case for the 6-Hour Workday

June 19, 2020

The eight-hour workday harkens back to 19-century socialism. When there was no upper limit to the hours that organizations could demand of factory workers, and the industrial revolution saw children as young as six-years-old working the coal mines, American labor unions fought hard to instill a 40-hour work week, eventually ratifying it as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

So much has changed since then. The internet fundamentally changed the way we live, work, and play, and the nature of work itself has transitioned in large part from algorithmic tasks to heuristic ones that require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, says that “the more complex and creative jobs are, the less it makes sense to pay attention to hours at all.” Yet despite all of this, the eight-hour workday still reigns supreme. “Like most humans,” Grant says, “leaders are remarkably good at anchoring on the past even when it’s irrelevant to the present.”

Heuristic work requires people to get into the physiological state of flow, coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. Flow refers to the state of full immersion in an activity, and you might know it best as “the zone.” A 10-year McKinsey study on flow found that top executives are up to 500% more productive when they’re in a state of flow. A study by scientists at Advanced Brain Monitoring also found that being in flow cut the time it took to train novice marksmen up to an expert level in half.

The Modern Organization Sabotages Productivity

Many of today’s organizations sabotage flow by setting counter-productive expectations on availability, responsiveness, and meeting attendance, with research by Adobe finding that employees spend an average of six hours per day on email. Another study found that the average employee checks email 74 times a day, while people touch their smartphones 2,617 times a day. Employees are in a constant state of distraction and hyper-responsiveness.

Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp and author of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, said on my podcast, Future Squared, that for creative jobs such as programming and writing, people need time to truly think about…
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