Could Shorter Work Days Lead to Increased Productivity?

The buzz about Amazon these days is what city the online retailer will select as the site for its second headquarters, but there is another process the company is currently conducting that could ultimately have a larger impact on work culture across America.

A year ago, a small group of Amazon employees began working 30-hour work weeks in an experiment to see if increased work/life balance increases employee productivity. The Amazon workers start their day at 10 a.m. and end at 2 p.m., earn 75 percent of their normal salary and keep their full benefits.

Limits To How Long We Stay Focused

Amazon is not a pioneer in thinking that shorter, more concentrated work hours could increase worker morale and productivity. A number of companies in various countries beat Amazon to the notion that shorter work days and work weeks may actually benefit both employees and employers.

In fact, some research suggests that the eight-hour work day may be five hours too long. A 2016 survey of nearly 2,000 United Kingdom workers revealed the average employee performs work-related tasks for less than three hours a day. The rest of the work day is spent reading news, using social media, socializing with coworkers, taking smoke breaks and looking for different jobs.

It’s been proven that people can focus on cognitive tasks like writing reports, analyzing spreadsheets or tackling other jobs that require creative thought for a certain amount of time before they lose focus.

“If you’re pushing people well beyond that time they can really concentrate maximally, you’re very likely to get them to acquire some bad habits,” K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the psychology of work, told Business Insider.

Real-Life Results

A Swedish nursing home was part of a two-year government experiment that cut the work day from eight to six hours. After its first year, the program resulted in reduced absenteeism and improved productivity and worker health.

Critics of shorter work weeks say it costs many companies more money, as they have to hire more workers to fill in the gaps. That is true in a service role like a nursing home, but other companies have found that increased productivity of their workers eliminates the need to hire additional personnel.

It’s unlikely the six-hour work day or the four-day work week will be widely adopted in the U.S. anytime soon. Not only is the 40-hour work week embedded into the U.S. corporate mindset, research shows that, on average, employees actually put in 47 hours of work per week – almost a full day more than the 40-hour standard requirement. Amazon hasn’t released information on its findings from its experiment with shorter work days. The retail world – and companies outside of retail – have mimicked successful strategies introduced by Amazon in the past. If the company announces it is implementing a shorter work week more broadly, it may create a domino effect across a wide swath of corporate America.