The End of the 9-5 Workweek

It has been said that Henry Ford created the workweek back in 1926. Henry may have been ahead of his time, as he believed that too many hours worked at the plant were bad for productivity; tired employees made costly mistakes. His vision led The Ford Motor Company to adopt a 40-hour workweek which evolved to be the standard.

The 40-hour workweek was solidified in 1940 from labor union pressures to regulate how many hours an employee should work during the week, thus creating overtime. During this time, America was in the boom of the manufacturing era, and employees needed to be physically present in the workplace to complete their work.

But, over the years, the way work is done has shifted. Manufacturing in the United States has decreased over the past few decades as the number of service organizations has increased. The use of the internet, computers, email, and shared services programs created the ability for companies to work globally, around the clock, and from anywhere. Before the pandemic, many offices only allowed employees to work remotely one or two days a week. Then the pandemic hit and disrupted the workplace overnight, sending thousands to work from home.  The idea of the workweek and how it needs to evolve to fit into 2021 and beyond is an opportunity for many employers to be on the cutting edge once again as our world shifts to a new kind of workweek.

First, let’s define productivity. Traditionally, employees came to the office, plant, or worksite to work their eight-hour day, Monday through Friday. Employees got paid for working 40 hours. Managers were trained to notice who were in their seats or at the worksite. They noticed who came in early and who stayed late. Based on this historical approach to management, many managers do not feel comfortable with employees working remotely because they cannot “see” them. Successful managers must shift their management approach to evaluate productivity by measuring outcomes and realistic expectations, which should be determined by both the employees and the managers/supervisors, ultimately aligned to the corporate goals and objectives. This approach allows the employee to see how their contribution supports the vision for the organization.  Managers should set up reoccurring one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss those goals, obstacles, and challenges. Several software programs are designed specifically for productivity tracking. It would be beneficial for both employees and managers to leverage this type of tool. Issues with the employee’s productivity and meeting their goals could then be addressed much sooner and corrected.

Employees are demanding flexibility with their work environment. According to an article titled “The New World of Work” from the summer 2021 edition of SHRM’s HR Magazine, 87% of employees want to keep working remotely at least one day a week once the pandemic subsides. More and more employees are evaluating their values and beliefs due to the COVID-19 scare. They are demanding more work-life balance. Salaried employees are expected to work more than a 40-hour workweek, and many work between 50 and 60 hours a week. The rise of smartphones and laptops has fractured the barriers between work and home, allowing bosses to contact employees at any time. Working parents, especially women, need the flexibility and work-life balance to address family responsibilities. Some of these responsibilities range from caring for their children and an aging parent. The pandemic already derailed the careers of females as it is estimated that 2.3 million women left the workforce in 2020 compared to 1.8 million the year before, according to an analysis completed by Gallup in February of 2021. There were a record number of individuals quitting their jobs in April of this year. There were 4 million employees that handed in their resignations during the month. As an employer, you will want to retain your high potential employees. If an employer is receptive to creating this type of desired flexibility and offers more work-life balance, they open the doors to more diversity in the workplace. Creating these benefits will ensure that the organization becomes an employer of choice. Then the talent pool expands, and an organization can recruit from coast to coast!

Next, managers will need to be trained on how to manage employees’ performance and productivity. The objective would be to give those managers all the tools they need to ensure they feel comfortable evaluating employees on their outcomes and not the employees’ time in their seats at the workplace. Managers should be trained in change management as part of this quickly. Not all employees work at the same speed nor respond to the same motivation. Some employees like to pace themselves, while others thrive on structure. Managers will need to recognize the different work styles and adjust how they manage those employees. Managers should identify an employee’s individual strengths and leverage those abilities to move the organization forward. In an article from The Economist, Corinne Ripcohe, CEO of Adecco Americas, said, “The world of work is fluid, and leaders must continuously learn and evolve their thinking, just like the workforce they are managing.”

The pandemic created thousands and thousands of commercial properties to remain empty for over a year. To employers’ surprise, the forced experiment of having much of their workforce work remotely exceeded their expectations. Many of those employers are reevaluating their real estate footprint and the additional expense. Some employers decided to eliminate that expense and go 100% remote. Others are reducing their real estate footprint and creating hybrid workforces. Employees would work a majority remotely and the remainder at the office. Of course, there will be times during the normal workweek that an employee must be present at the physical office. It could be project meetings, servicing customers, or any established work-related reasons defined by the organization. The office would have shared workspaces with alternating teams in the office. Of course, there are disadvantages to every experiment done in the office. Managers should shift the team members in the office, so silos are not created, and employees interact with all their team members.

Consider this a great opportunity to reevaluate where and how your employees get their work done. Employers should even consider reducing the hours that employees work.

As mentioned in one of our articles, Iceland completed a study where their workweek was condensed to 35, or 36 hours, without a pay cut. They found that employees were happier. Research showed that there was less burnout, and productivity remained the same and, for some, an increase.

Consider this a great opportunity to reevaluate where and how your employees get their work done. These considerations can significantly impact the talent you want to move your business toward future opportunities and success. Employers Council can help.