The average American works 8.8 hours a day, but research suggests that may be three hours too many.
Experts and company CEOs have found working five-hour days can improve productivity and boost overall wellness, as is the ‘sweet spot’ for when focus starts to dwindle.
Studies show that as our focus slides, we become less motivated, make more mistakes and become easily distracted, which is why some companies are opting for a five-hour workday.
The idea stems from a study of music training that inspired the ‘10,000-hour rule’ – the concept it takes that many hours to become an expert at something – but the researcher found the ‘best’ students practiced for just four to five hours a day.
A number of companies have tested the five-hour workday, which learned the program has both positives and negatives.
One success story is Tower Paddle Boards, which moved to a compressed-hour model in 2015.
Staff worked from 8am to 1pm, without breaks, which pushed them to increase output in order to meet the early cutoff time – the company saw a 50 percent spike in productivity.
Experts and company CEO have found that working five-hour days can improve productivity and boost overall wellness, as some suggest that is the sweet spot for when focus starts to dwindle
However, other companies have found employees can become overwhelmed by packing eight hours of work into a five-hour shift, and the change also disrupts the work culture.
The first law in the US that called for an eight-hour workday was passed in Illinois in 1867.
In 1914, Henry Ford of Ford Motors implemented the schedule in his factories and also reduced the work week from six to five days, thus creating the 40-hour work week.
It was created so to split the 24 hour day over three eight-hour shifts, enabling his plant to churn out cars 24/7.
This new schedule sparked a national discussion among other companies that eventually hopped on the bandwagon.
Tower Paddle Boards CEO Stephan Aarstol is one of those firms and conducted a three-month trial with the five-hour work schedule. The trial appeared to be a success right out the gate: employees were motivated to finish early and revenue increased 50 percent that year
However, the human brain has a limit on how much information it can process at once due to a finite energy supply, according to a study published in Journal of Neuroscience.
‘It takes a lot of energy to run the human brain,’ study author Professor Nilli Lavie at University College London said in a statement.
‘If there’s a hard limit on energy supply to the brain, we suspected that the brain may handle challenging tasks by diverting energy away from other functions, and prioritizing the focus of our attention.
‘Our findings suggest that the brain does indeed allocate less energy to the neurons that respond to information outside the focus of our attention when our task becomes harder.
Although Ford’s move could be what led it the entire US working eight hour days and being drowned in information, some modern-day companies are looking out for their employees’ wellbeing.
Tower Paddle Boards CEO Stephan Aarstol conducted a three-month trial with the five-hour work schedule.
However, the shortened day meant no breaks or lunch for workers who were packing and shipping paddle boards for the California-based company.
The trial appeared to be a success right out the gate: employees were motivated to finish early and revenue increased 50 percent that year.
But the study took at a turn two years later when the company had a mass exodus resulting in 44 percent of the staff leaving.
Aarstol, confused and disheartened, concluded the turnover rate was because, ‘We broke the company culture,’ he told Chief Executive.
‘Everybody working long hours in the trenches alongside one another,’ he said.
Other companies have found employees can become overwhelmed by packing eight hours of work into a five-hour shift, and the change also disrupts the work culture
‘You form really strong bonds with people when you do that. But when you’re walking out the door at 1 o’clock, work becomes this thing you do before lunch to sort of afford this luxurious lifestyle. The rest of your life becomes much bigger.’
From then until the start of the pandemic, the company instituted a hybrid model, with the five-hour workday happening only during the summer.
German digital consultancy Rheingans conducted a similar experiment in 2017 and shortly after introducing the policy, two employees left the company.
Lasse Rheingans, CEO of Rheingans, told CNBC: ‘I think for the first time in their career, they had the time to go home and really consider ‘What do I want to do for myself?’
‘Some of them came to the conclusion, ‘Hey, I would really love to do something else.’ One of them started studying again — something completely different than he did before — and the other changed industries.’
However, just like Aarstol, Rheingans also found that the shorter days killed the company’s work culture.
We realized that we were losing something on the relationship level,’ Rheingans told Wired.
‘It affects loyalty and team culture and the relationships people have in a company, when you don’t have time for chatter and small talk and coffee together.’