Since the dawn of the industrial age, we have been slaving away day by day, overwhelmed by our workload and oppressed by our work week, and just like Sisyphus, doomed to an uphill battle of deadlines, meetings and reports that MUST BE DONE within a 40hr period!!!
Okay, I’m being just a tad dramatic, but did I tell a lie? No.
Well, actually to be more accurate, people working during peak industrialisation worked way more than we do now, at least 6 days a week and almost all day, so practically almost every day back then. That’s kind of the reason we ended up with a 5 day work week. Can you believe people actually compromised and settled on that because at that time it seemed reasonable? Haha! Let us all laugh in Union. [sic]
Since I started on a somewhat biblical note, if we take it back to the Babylonians, they also worked Every. Damn. Day. It was thought to increase productivity, however, so was castration. Who knew? So since analysing these ancient people is a whole other controversial discourse, I digress.
To Examine Our Present Work Situation, We Must Take a Quick Look At the Past.
According to historians, after the invention of the first productive steam engine by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, the industrial revolution occurred from 1750 to 1914 and had two distinct phases. The first one occurred between 1750 and 1850, and the second, between 1850 and 1914.
Throughout these periods, various inventions either assisted human labour or replaced it altogether. If you’re a proud nerd like I am, do some research on the industrial revolution timeline, and learn about some of the wild ‘ish that happened.
Like the 1811 Luddite Rebellion in Great Britain where they attacked factories and destroyed machines in protest against the industry. Or, a more sinister situation, when in 1813, fourteen Luddites were hanged at York Castle in England for the murder of manufacturer William Horsfall. Did I mention that a precursor to this hanging was a law passed back in 1812 by the British Parliament, making it illegal by penalty of death to destroy industrial machines? A machine ya’ll. A machine. There were wildin’ I tell you…
What’s interesting to note is that humanity’s colloquial language and hyperbole also evolve with all inventions, and tend to reflect whatever is popular at the time. For example, when electricity was invented, people started referring to sudden ‘brilliant’ ideas as ‘a lightbulb moment’ and even now in media, especially in advertising, this is often symbolised by the image of a light bulb superimposed on a brain to signify bright ideas. During industrialisation, to get something done quickly or efficiently, it was said to go “full steam ahead”. Now that we’re in the 21st century and everything is ruled by computers and tech, we’re all “logged in/on” to whatever new thing is trending. Some even posit that we’re living in a simulation. (If that’s the case, I kindly request the powers that be to assign me a few rare NFTs and a spot of land next to Snoop Dogg in the Metaverse. Thanks in advance!)
Now, what does all of the above have to do with you and a shortened workweek? Well, everything. After the current 5 day work week was deemed doable, employers and employees alike held fast to that belief system and failed to see the potential for work-evolution, until now.
Due to the pandemic and much of the world’s workforce operating remotely for at least a year, we observed a few things:
- The obvious, that it is quite possible to work from home. Hopefully, this paradigm shift has now provided more employment opportunities for disabled or autistic individuals who were possibly denied work in the past, due to a company’s location, lack of accessibility, or lack of suitable resources on their premises.
- Most people are responsible and will get their work done without a boss peeking over their shoulder.
- Employees actually work more when they’re working remotely, especially when they’re working from their own homes.
The Burnout Phenomenon Modern Work Has Caused.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies employee burnout as a “syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Statistics via this everyonesocial.com article by Courtney Morrison, detail that:
- 75% of workers have experienced burnout, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic. (FlexJobs)
- 67% of all workers believe burnout has worsened over the course of the pandemic. (Indeed)
- 36% of employees said their organization isn’t doing anything to help with employee burnout. (Eagle Hill Consulting)
- 37% of employed respondents say they are currently working longer hours than usual since the pandemic started. (FlexJobs)
- 61% of remote workers and 53% of on-site workers now find it more difficult to “unplug” from work during off-hours. (Indeed)
- Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job. (Gallup)
- Prior to the pandemic, just 5% of employed workers and 7% of unemployed workers said their mental health was poor or very poor. Now, 18% of employed and 27% of unemployed workers say they are struggling with mental health issues. (FlexJobs)
- More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents agree that workplace stress affects their mental health. (FlexJobs)
- 56% of workers listed having flexibility in their workday as the top way their workplace could better support them. Encouraging time off and offering mental health days were tied for second and third at 43%. And 28% felt that increased Personal Time Off (PTO), and better health insurance were the next best ways to provide support. (FlexJobs)
- Burned-out employees are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. (Gallup)
- Managers are just as likely, if not slightly more so, to suffer frequent or constant burnout than individual contributors (26% of managers vs. 24% of individual contributors). (Gallup)
So Just How Do We Manage This Work Stress Effectively?
Well, just this week, two major companies, one of them being Japanese giant Panasonic, adopted a 4 day work week. Culturally, the Japanese are known for their dedicated and often intense work ethic. Yet, things are changing for the better and they’ve acknowledged that stressful work environments contribute to stressed employees resulting in lower productivity, a decline in health and general dissatisfaction. Japanese employers are offering this 4-day work week alternative so that employees can pursue their own personal interests on that additional day off.
A Flexible Work Schedule. Awesome Concept Right?
The 4-day work week has become increasingly popular in the last few years and in 2019, another Japanese powerhouse, Microsoft, created the “Work-Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer.” This experiment offered employees a variety of work schedules to choose from, in an attempt to measure the correlation between decreased work hours and level of productivity. The results were positively encouraging. Workers were not only happier after trying the flexible schedules, but there was also an impressive 40% increase in productivity for the period that they did work.
So what does this data tell us so far? Essentially, employees are exhausted from work and the old systems of work are no longer working. In China, the ‘Tang ping’ or ‘Lying Flat’ movement is well, picking up steam (the irony is not lost here lol). To ‘lie flat’ simply means to do nothing. “It’s a lifestyle choice and social protest movement in China adopted by some young people who reject societal pressures on hard work or even overwork.” It directly counters the Chinese work phenomenon of ‘996’, where most people work from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, 6 days a week.
So It Can’t Just Be Overwork or No Work. Where’s the Sweet Middleground?
As an employer, you have a responsibility to your staff and yourself, to ensure that you’re all working in healthy company culture and environment. For those still commuting, bosses can implement tangible initiatives that promote well-being. For those working remotely, having regular evaluations of how a team is doing, collectively and individually, can identify areas of stress, and follow-up solutions implemented to decrease, or eliminate it altogether.
Regardless of where you work though, more importantly, maybe your company should consider joining the 4 Day Work Week initiative. With a traditional 5 day work week, you’ve only got two days to run errands, grocery shop, engage in activities with your kids, fix things around your home… and the list goes on. It’s just no longer practical. We’ve evolved, and our obligations too.
4 Day Week Global proposes “A universal four-day week would benefit all kinds of workers and nearly every sector and industry has companies and nonprofits that have successfully switched to a 4 day week, or other form of reduced hour work week, without reducing pay.” They currently have a petition going and this Twitter video, Kickstarter to Have 4 Day Work Weeks In 2022, by crowdfunding disruptor Jonathan Leland, is pretty inspiring and compelling.
So employers what say you? 4-day work week = rested and happy employees = increased productivity = possibly increased profits.
Seems like a win-win to me.