Friday, September 29, 2017
When I was in elementary school, there was consistent talk about how much things would change in a future work world as we eagerly anticipated timesaving technology and greater efficiencies. In my memory, we were assured that by the time I was an adult we would be working only 4 days a week, which meant of course, a 3-day weekend! Even in my 9 year old imagination, this sounded promising since it meant more time off to play, be with family, read, do errands, etc. So even as a young child, I dreamed of a healthy work life balance.
Here it is, 30 years later after a lifetime spent in 9 am-5 pm careers, and a standard flexible, shortened or creative workweek seems more in its infancy than it was at 9.
Recently I read an article that gives a good overview of the consequences of continuing to insist on the 40 hour a week professional life. You can read the article from the online “Business Insider” here.
To me it is no surprise that in the U.S. (where we work more hours and take less time off than the workers take in any other developed country in the world) it took scientific research to begin to explore the benefits of more flexible work hours.
For example, K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the psychology of work, compiles research on what is required to build expertise. Ericsson found that “practice makes perfect”, but only if we spend shorter blocks of time practicing. When pushed past shorter time limits we form bad habits that take away from our goal of perfection, i.e. social media, reading the news, chatting with colleagues, etc. (sound familiar)?
Of course, not all work is well suited to flexible time schedules, but I am encouraged that even large companies like Amazon (see article) are experimenting with shorter workweeks and finding employees responding productively and effectively.
This has been brought home to me in the last several weeks by talking to two professional millennials. One is my daughter who has a demanding community-organizing job and who consciously tries to keep her workweek at 40-45 hours so she has time for her personal, away-from-work life. Another is a young colleague who is dedicated to working a (negotiated) 4-day workweek because personal and family time is also important!
I applaud these young women and am excited to see the move towards a more flexible, and therefore more creative and productive, workweek.
Perhaps when their children are in elementary school there will be more options for creating a healthy work/life balance and the more balanced future we were promised when I was in elementary school will be coming more clearly into practice!