The five-day, 40-hour workweek.

It’s as common, unremarkable, and universally accepted as blue skies.

But it’s starting to be questioned as more companies see the benefits of reducing work hours.

Amazon is reportedly giving it a try. If this online behemoth makes it work, it may only be a matter of time until more companies follow suit.

To be clear, we’re not talking about compressed workweeks. We’re not talking about four 10-hour shifts, as companies like KPMG and SchooLinks implemented. We’re talking about an actual reduction in hours, either by cutting a weekly shift or working fewer hours per day.

Benefits of a shorter workweek

In the IT service industry, we often work well over 40 hours a week—so how can we possibly justify reducing the hours we spend on the job? It seems ridiculous to even consider reducing hours…right?

Maybe not.

When you look at the companies successfully using reduced work hours, you’ll find many benefits. But it seems to boil down to two main themes: enhanced productivity and better employee wellness, both mental and physical.

One example of productivity comes from the Swedish city of Gothenburg, where city workers switched to six-hour work days. The result? According to a Fast Company article, there were fewer sick days, enhanced efficiency, and much happier employees.

The article also discussed Brath, a Swedish startup that reduced work days to six hours and saw improved creativity and problem solving. Company CEO Martha Brath says it’s simply impossible for creative employees to maintain high productivity for eight hours. In their case, a six-hour workweek maximizes mental efficiency and allows employees to rejuvenate their brains.

Treehouse, an online learning platform, is another good example. CEO Ryan Carson says his staff productivity, morale, and retention are all enhanced with a shorter workweek. Employees at his company work four days a week, for a grand total of 32 hours. Despite the reduction in office time, Carson claims yearly revenue has grown by 120%. “On Mondays everyone is fresh and excited—not jaded from working over the weekend,” he says.

IT support sometimes has a reputation as a high-pressure grind. Frequent turnover is not uncommon, especially on the front lines. Recruiting qualified staff can be difficult. A perk like shorter workweeks could help you attract—and keep—the cream of the crop.

It seems there’s a real health advantage to shorter weeks as well. In 2014, one of the UK’s leading health advocates, said switching to a four-day workweek would reduce people’s stress and sickness. He claims fewer work hours can bring down blood pressure, ease mental health conditions, and reduce depression.

shorter workweek productivity relaxing
Peter Varga on Flickr

The downsides to a shorter workweek

Like any massive shift in work or operations, there are bound to be drawbacks. The primary challenge of a shorter workweek is the potential need for more staff to cover certain shifts. Depending on your workflow, you may need to increase your staff size by as much as 20% to ensure everything is properly covered.

Hiring more staff takes time and energy on the part of human resources and management, of course. There will be temporary costs to cover job advertisements, interviewing, and training new employees. There are also the new salaries to consider.

But the payoff can be there. When gaming company Filimundus cut back to six-hour days, they found the increased productivity offset the extra expense. “Money-wise, in costs, it evened out. Profit remained,” said the CEO.

Executing a short workweek

If you and your company are interested in implementing a shorter workweek, what can you do to make it effective and lasting? Start by taking cues from some of the companies who’ve been successful with shorter workweeks.

One trick can be borrowed from Stephan Aarstol, CEO of Tower, a holistic beach-lifestyle company that makes paddle boards and other products. As a safeguard, he made shorter workweeks a pilot project, calling it “summer hours.” This made it easy to take back if the program failed. If you make it a “permanent” change right off the bat and it doesn’t work, it might seem like you’re forcing employees to work more when you revert to 40 hours.

The strategy could also be tried on a true seasonal basis. Basecamp, an online project management and collaboration platform, uses four-day weeks from May through August, even for technical support staff. (This Basecamp benefit is part of one of the most awe-inspiring lists of employee perks ever seen. It’s a list that includes monthly fitness and massage allowances, $1,000 every year for continuing education, and a one-month sabbatical every three years.)

If you rely on an outsourced NOC to cover evenings and weekends, could you bump that service contract to pick up an extra eight or 10 hours per week?

It’s also a good idea to not restrict hours, but to give employees the freedom to leave when work is complete. If they need the occasional 10-hour work day to accomplish their goals, don’t forbid this extra time.

So that’s the idea: Make your team more productive, happy, healthy, and loyal. Think it could work for you? Leave a comment and let us know.

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