The 25-Hour Work Week, And Other Radical Ideas For Better Employee Productivity

"I don’t care when you work, how you work, or where you work." In an excerpt from her upcoming book, author Rana Florida explores unconventional ideas for letting employees be their best selves.

When I began as CEO at the Creative Class, I told my team members that I was not their boss. Early on, I realized the value of changing my vocabulary. Subordinate, employee, and staff became colleague and team, because ultimately that’s what we all are in the workplace.

"Please don’t call me boss, don’t send me approvals like I’m your boss, don’t ask for approval to go on vacation. There is no vacation request form," I said. "We are all colleagues. You are getting paid for your expertise. I am not going to do performance reviews or expect status reports. It is up to you to manage your own workload, to manage the clients, and to deliver a quality service."



"I don’t care when you work, how you work, or where you work," I told them. A few of them did not understand and still wanted to report in to me. I had to constantly remind them not to fill up my in-box with such trifles. "Great, you’re going on vacation with your kids and won’t be checking e-mail," I’d respond. "Have fun. Find a colleague to manage your clients and make sure your clients know how to reach them."

I thought about those conversations when I was interviewing Mayor Richard Daley. "I can’t recall many instances when I was mayor where an issue was so crucial that my staff had to awaken me in the middle of the night," he told me. "I hired very competent managers who knew I expected them to work hard. They knew they couldn’t be afraid to make a decision. Sometimes the decisions were right, and sometimes there should have been a different approach. The important thing is that the decision was made." 

Josh Patrick, the founder and principal at a financial advisory services firm, told the New York Times, "One of the things we constantly told employees was the following statement: ‘You are the expert at your job.’ It took several years for some of our people to actually believe it. But I’ve used this mantra in my business life ever since. The key is that when you make this change, you stop telling people what to do and you start asking them their opinion about the best way to get something done. This can produce all sorts of benefits." 

I’ve had bosses who didn’t just want to control my professional time but wanted to be included in my personal life and hang out with my friends and me outside the office. I’ve had bosses who wanted me to give them home and fashion makeovers and who wanted me to host parties with them. I always gave in a bit, thinking this surely was my way to the top. It wasn’t. The more time I gave, the more time they took.

Jason Fried wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on managing time at his software company, 37signals:

We take inspiration from the seasons and build change into our work schedule. For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less.

Most staff workers take Fridays off, but some choose a different day. Nearly all of us enjoy three-day weekends. Work ends Thursday, the weekend starts Friday, and work starts back up on Monday.

The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five.

When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.

I’ve never had an employer who believed in this system. All of them assumed that if you’re not sitting at your desk for long hours, you’re not really working. Sometimes exactly the opposite is the case. Rather than sneak out early and risk the piercing looks of colleagues and bosses, many an efficient worker will ride out the last hour or so of the day at his or her desk, playing around with Facebook or instant chatting with friends. Being productive does not translate to being busy.

As the productivity expert Tony Schwartz wrote in a New York Times op-ed, the best way to improve employees’ productivity is to encourage them to relax. "The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology," he wrote. "Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy."

In a study of nearly 400 employees, published in 2011, researchers found that sleeping too little—defined as less than six hours a night—was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

Having more vacation time is beneficial. In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of 1 to 5) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Another one of Dan Gilbert’s 27 lessons is very much to the point. He says, "Working longer hours does not automatically make you more successful. Working smarter does." Consider the case of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, who leaves the office at 5:30 every day. "I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids," she declared in a recent interview. "I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years, that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly." 

James Vaupel of the Max Planck Research Center in Denmark believes that everybody should work shorter hours but continue to work well past the traditional age of retirement. "A 25-hour work week will allow younger people to spend more time with their children, take better care of their health (which will help raise average life expectancy), and improve their over-all quality of life," he says, "while for the older population—many of whom have more time on their hands than they know what to do with—work can serve as both a psychological and physical outlet." 

Rana Florida is the author of Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary. Florida also serves as CEO of Creative Class Group, a consulting firm serving such clients as BMW, Starwood, IBM, Philips, Zappos, and Johnson & Johnson, and writes the Huffington Post column "Your Startup Life."

[Image: Flickr user Shoothead]

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12 Comments

  • Enkata

    "‘You are the expert at your job.’ It took several years for some of our people to actually believe it."

    Many employees are never told this, hence when they start working for a company that trusts them to just make things happen it's a bit of a shock. Everyone is left wondering what the catch is...and how are they supposed to "play by the rules" when they aren't given any?

  • Ady Co

    Oh wow, bosses not looking over your shoulder and a H25 work week is awesome to look forward to but I won't hold my breath waiting for it. I am from Asia and am skeptical about how bosses will interpret this (ie. lowering wages).

  • Paul H. Burton

    I'm a HUGE fan of logical timeframe compression. Deadlines are another form of this concept - forcing a result within a limited time period. The McKinsey & Company study "Making Time Management the Organization's Priority" is another angle on this same line of thinking. You can read that report at http://www.mckinsey.com/insigh....

    One of the things I've been involved in recently is more tactical. Specifically, one of the biggest time sinks we deal with today is email overload. Email is the app we love to hate. The majority of the time we spend handling email is necessary, but there's a significant percentage that is just unnecessary, e.g., getting cc'd on a runaway thread that has nothing to do with your work. You get to slog through deleting all that email = busy getting nothing done...

    At RepriseMail - www.reprisemail.com - we think we've hit on a way to actually get people to use email better. By applying some business intelligence principles, we've built an app that measures how email's getting used - the diagnostic part. Then we pair that diagnosis with a set of suggested habit/usage changes. The result is less time wasted dealing with unnecessary email, which means more time doing meaningful work!

  • SarahAnstee

    I've worked 25 hour weeks since my kids were born, managing large projects, regions and teams. The fact that I have to deliver more in less time forces an efficient approach and level of clarity in thinking. More debate and articles like this trending are needed to challenge the 'jacket on the back of the seat' culture and inspire fresh, committed and engaged employees.

  • Srinivas Rao

    Rana, 

    All I can say is thank you. I probably did one week of actual work in the first 10 years of my career because of the required "sitting at a desk." I look forward to reading your book. 

  • Madison_o

    I would love to work a four-day week, but wonder if any of these people do it with children. It's much easier if you're single.

  • JRay

    Why is a four day work week easier if you are single?  Wouldn't parents benefit from having an extra day off for kid-related activities (and reduced child care costs)?

  • L S King 000

    I love reading about these rare instances of common sense in the work place, but the truth is, for most of us "wage slaves," we are expected to put in the time and vacations are a luxury most of us can't afford. 

  • industrialflush .

     Most bosses don't get it though. It's like the old adage that the kind of person it takes to be president is the last person that should be the president.

    I've worked at successful companies and unsuccessful companies and they all share the same attributes in a boss/leader.

    1. The leader addresses “we” but the boss addresses “I.”

    2. The leader teaches but the bosses criticize.

    3. The leader serves for a purpose towards success but the boss manages to an end.

    4. The leader says “Let’s go” but the boss says “Go.”

    5. The leader enables but the boss disables.

    6. The leader shows humility, while the boss shows pride.

    As the famous quotes says; “The leader leads and the boss drives.”I am in sales, so i get easily distracted by others (a natural failing of sales people). When I am at home I work non-stop as that becomes the interaction I crave. I may take an hour lunch instead of 30 minutes but the 2 hours of driving plus 2 hours of extra time spent because I am comfortable at home means my productivity skyrockets. My lifestyle is better too. I can go to the gym, pool, spend a few moments with the kids. If I were to run a company of the future the max I would want to see employees in the office is 3 days from 10-4pm. A weekly status report of accomplishments is sufficient and results. Get your work done, be happy at home and you won't ever see a good staffer quit.

  • Mitch_brown

    See Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report. Intreseting contiunace of the dialouge sure to be created by this article

  • BridgeDistance

    "We are all collegues"  What a powerful message that is necessary in today's every increasing work-filled life.

    Treating employees as adults shouldn't be such a foreign concept to organizations, but sadly, it is.  

    As someone who has worked in traditional organizations with face-time and planting yourself at your desk the hallmarks of a solid employee, to where I am now, with a reduced-hour, week, I can honestly say that I am vastly more productive now.  

    With less time, I am more focused and easily get as much done as in every previous position, I appreciate this article (Kudos to Sheryl Sandberg for creating work-life balance and a successful career).