We’ve all heard the saying “time is money,” but is it actually true? In 2021, the productivity vs. hours worked debate reached new heights as more than 47 million Americans walked away from their jobs last year.

Time is more valuable today than ever — and that’s why employees are questioning the number of working hours needed to increase productivity levels.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has driven us to change the way we work. Both employees and employers are still trying to figure out how to evolve workplace culture post-pandemic.

The sudden shift to remote work created new concerns for business leaders like:

  • Obtaining proof of work during working hours
  • Maintaining a work-life balance
  • Avoiding burnout
  • Measuring productivity
  • Respecting or reinventing conventional working hours

In this post, we’ll look at how prolonged work hours and shortened workdays affect employee productivity. We’ll also go over some pointers on being more productive in less time.


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Should we be working longer or shorter hours to increase productivity?

It’s worth remembering that in 1940 the 40-hour workweek became law in America. Previously, it was common to work 70 or more hours per week.

This might seem like a case for continuing to shorten work hours, but we’ll do our best to make a case for each.

Does working longer hours equate to higher productivity?

Working longer hours and productivity

In the 2000s, Google and other Silicon Valley tech giants transformed corporate culture as we know it. As companies fought for talent and sought to retain employees, they gave great benefits such as free food, massages, and nap pods.

While some organizations attempted to make the workplace more fun, others urged employees to work longer hours. Many employees experienced burnout and overall mental health became a huge concern.

Workaholics are not celebrated in most businesses nowadays. Working longer hours is unsustainable, and overtime is rarely associated with increased productivity.

The more time you have to work on a job, the more time you will waste delaying and overthinking rather than working on it. This concept is known as Parkinson’s law and is practically human nature. Giving a task less time could boost productivity and make it feel more manageable.

Whatever your work ethic, keep in mind that more hours per week does not always equate to better results. Working more than 45 hours does not equal higher productivity. In fact, working upwards of 55 hours a week raises the risk of stroke to 35%.

If you have noticed your team logging many sick days, it could be because they work long hours. Long workdays can lead to an unhappy, unproductive, and unhealthy team.

You want your team energized, engaged, and actively contributing to the work — not taking days off because they’re burned out or sick.

If this is a problem in your business, you might need to limit your team’s daily and weekly hours.

Tired team members are also more likely to make mistakes. In some industries, fatigue can lead to poor judgment and injury. Both of these issues hurt employee retention and end up costing your business money.


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Does working shorter days equal higher productivity?

Working shorter days and productivity

Research shows that working shorter hours can reduce burnout and boost employee well-being and productivity. Several countries have experimented with shorter workweeks to test this concept.

There are thousands of companies that have adopted the reduced workweek model. The significant benefit here is the three-day weekend. A three-day weekend will likely boost full-time team members’ morale and help them find a better work-life balance.

Rather than keeping the workweek at 40 hours over four days, most employers lower it to 32 hours over four days. Companies like Kickstarter and Microsoft’s Japanese team have begun embracing this model. In fact, Microsoft increased productivity by 40% by moving to a four-day workweek in 2019.

The Wanderlist Group and Buffer are also on a four-day workweek. All are reporting sustainable or increased productivity while working less.

Iceland lowered government employees’ work hours from 40 to 35 or 36 hours as part of the world’s largest trial of the shorter work time. The study looked at 2,500 city and national government employees in Reykjavik from 2015 to 2019.

As a result:

  • Stress and burnout decreased
  • Employees reported better work-life balance
  • Productivity remained stable and even improved for some teams

Following the success in Iceland, trade unions negotiated permanent reductions in working hours, with roughly 86% of Iceland’s working population now implementing shorter work schedules or acquiring the right to do so.

There’s a movement underway across the world. Perks like remote work, flexible hours, and four-day workweeks pop up in job postings to help employers stand out during the Great Resignation, also known as the “The Great Reshuffle.”

It’s what LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report calls a “watershed moment” for company culture. Employees are demanding (and often receive) more freedom in company policies regarding work hours and remote work.

Tips to increase productivity in fewer hours

Imagine only working 15 hours a week by 2030. John Maynard Kernes made this prediction in 1928. He believed technological enhancement, work capacity, and productivity would be significantly enhanced, resulting in a 15-hour workweek.

When trying to understand the difference between productivity and working hours, it is essential to focus on output. The fundamental distinction between productivity and hours worked is the amount of work completed in a time period.

There are many ways you can achieve higher productivity in less time. If you want to go deeper, here is a guide on how to increase employee productivity.

For the time being, here are four suggestions for increasing productivity during a reduced workweek:

1. Don’t waste time in meetings

Thomson Reuters changed the default periods for scheduling meetings from increments of 30 or 60 minutes to 25 or 45 minutes. PWC set a goal to cut meetings by 25% and let employees use Friday afternoons to work on projects or take time off.
Companies like Wiley, Peloton, Axiata, and even our team at Hubstaff have experimented with no-meeting days.

Meanwhile, Twitter, Gitlab, and Doist are saying no to meetings altogether. Instead, they communicate via messaging tools or email.

2. Monitor employee productivity

Consider using an employee productivity tracker. These apps can help you track hours worked against tasks completed. Team leaders can monitor progress and identity problems that may lead to employee burnout or bottlenecks in a project.

3. Create a work culture where work-life balance comes first

Many businesses today provide flexible work hours. Allow your team members to choose their hours individually. This report on productivity benchmarks will help you establish goals and manage flexible hours for each of your team members.

To sustain productivity, you need to focus on work-life balance. A happy team functioning with little to no stress works well.

4. Encourage remote work

After lockdowns and restrictions governed our lives during the early 2020s, employees are looking for freedom and flexibility. It’s important to empathize and understand that, if given more freedom, your employees won’t abuse it.

Instead, they’ll choose to work when they are feeling productive. This freedom explains why remote team members work over 40 hours a week, 43% more than a traditional office employee.

Working from home is just as productive as working in an office — if not more productive.

How many hours a week should we be putting in to increase our productivity?

63% of job seekers want work-life balance

LinkedIn’s report found that 63% of people looking for a new job want an excellent work-life balance. Unfortunately, finding the ideal number of hours is unique to every situation.

Employees should be evaluated on their output, not how many hours they work per day. As long as they can complete their work correctly and on time, the work hours they choose should be of little concern.

To boost productivity, think less about how many hours you and your team members work. Instead, concentrate on how satisfied you are with output and the overall work environment.


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