The Case For The 6-Hour Work Day, According To Harvard

Harvard researchers think that a 6-hour work day could be more productive than the usual 8 hours.

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Taylor Tobin1.84k
April 12, 2024 at 9:39PM UTC

The 9-to-5 workday, once considered the standard model of a “productive” shift at the office, is rapidly falling out of favor. Industries like tech, digital media and e-commerce, for instance, place far less emphasis on showing up to work at a specific time, staying for eight hours and repeating the cycle again the next day. And, according to the Harvard Business Review, the long-standing cultural focus on the eight-hour workday may be about due for total eradication. 

HBR affiliates at Collective Campus in Melbourne, Australia studied the impact of the typical eight-hour day and measured hourly output to see whether this schedule actually does promote productivity... and they swiftly discovered that sticking with this work model out of habit rather than necessity encourages time-wasting and inefficiency on both an individual-employee level and on an institutional level for the company.

The crux of HBR’s argument centers around the fact that the eight-hour workday is based on an archaic model dating back to the Industrial Revolution. In today’s Information Age, we’re beset by constant interruptions throughout our time at the office: the “ping” of new emails in our inbox (which need to be answered in a timely fashion), coworkers dropping by our cubicles to check on our project progress, hour-long, in-person meetings about issues that could be easily resolved in a 20-minute phone call... the list continues. All of these daily productivity hiccups prevent us from settling into a state of “flow," or a focus level that allows us to maximize our attentions and complete our work both efficiently and effectively.

So what can modern workplaces do to sidestep these productivity snags and set their employees up for smooth and mutually-beneficial workflows? According to HBR, diverting attention from the number of hours that an employee spends on-the-clock and instead honing in on the actual completion of job-related tasks should be the goal for most professional environments. In the interest of eliminating distractions and redundancies and maximizing efficient practices, HBR recommends a shorter workday of six hours rather than the traditional eight hours. To back their theory, HBR cites the Pareto principle, which “stipulates that about 20% of your tasks will create about 80% of the value, so it’s about focusing on those high-value tasks.” 

To put the Pareto principle to good use and make a positive transition to a six-hour workday, HBR advises companies to reexamine their priorities, to cut/reduce tasks that aren’t strictly essential, to automate as many basic duties as they can, to delegate/outsource jobs that don’t need to be performed on-site during the regular workday, and- above all else- to set realistic expectations for employees and to make sure that your team fully understands their key points of focus and their highest-priority assignments. These streamlining efforts will speed up processes and, based on HBR’s findings, allow employees to increase their output and their job satisfaction all at the same time.


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