Benefits Of The 'Somewhere Between 4-40 Hour' Work Week

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Burnout. Retirement. Altered work schedules--so many conversations about this of late.

Tim Ferriss of course has his 4-hour work week. If you haven't read the book, (I'd be shocked if you haven't by now), it's worth a quick read. However, as much as it's lovely to consider, I don't really think a 4-hour work week is feasible for most of us--unless we are an ex-POTUS, Brad Pitt or Tim Ferriss.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the 40-hour (or more) work week. The traditional time the industrial revolution has given to us. Work based upon light and largely attributed to the automobile industry and Henry Ford/factory work.

I'm here to state that I think we should move past the 40-hour (or more) work week. It's time. In fact, many of us have moved past this into the 'Somewhere between 4-40 hour work week.' Many professionals mid-career I've spoken to lately work a 25, 30, 32, even 36-hour work week. I love that all bets are off for many now, and we can finally, creatively tailor our careers like haute couture!

Benefits to Working a Less than 40-hour Work Week:

You're more productive when you're in the office. There is no time to waste when you're working a less than 40-hour work week. I tend to really focus in my shorter work week and know what I need to do when and that I've got to get X done in Y time. Heads are completely down at work! On the flip side, all the distracting appointments I reserve one day a week to attend to - doctors appointments, meetings, other stuff--I know that one day of my week is going to be full of other stuff, but the efficiency at work has to get done during my focused time at work. Having these days makes scheduling much easier. (BTW - those who also use all their vacation are also more productive too - so if you have the luck of vacation - take it.)

You're more curious, creative, and interesting. I didn't come up with this one, a friend of mine who I met with recently shared this with me, which is something I never even pondered before, but I agree with her. If you work for example 32 hours a week, that leaves you a day for "creative time" (Google's old 20% time when one day a week, Googlers could work on anything else they wanted to) - time to THINK, read books, attend conferences and lectures--outside of your organization. She literally said it makes you more 'interesting' - and I really appreciated that comment! You can explore new ideas, meet new people out of your normal professional sphere and just find awesome stuff that you can't during your office time. There's also a interesting phenomenon where career development by employers is actually more important than salary - in that employees want the 'perk' of career development from their employer more so than higher salary. I say, why not work a little less and be master of your OWN career development destiny? Look for mentors outside of your day jobs in areas you may have never considered before for your career. Your employer is really not responsible for your happiness or your career development anyway - you are.

You're less prone to burnout. There are record numbers of people in the US work force completely burned out on work right now and completely disengaged from work. Why would you mentally place yourself in a situation where you're doing something you are checked out of for 40 hours each week? Downtime is good for all the reasons above and more. Downtime can also help you explore NEW or DIFFERENT career avenues in your spare time that you can't see in your organization while entrenched 40 hours a week. Maybe you can pursue a passion in non profit work and still find joy in your week that can inspire you to not burn out beyond the day job? Furthermore, for those of us, er, over 40 - there is a lot of literature and data that supports us NOT working a 40-hour work week, and even in this article, working 60 hours a week is worse than not working at all. The Japanese have a word for this - karoshi - which translates to 'working yourself to death.' Not good - at all. Avoid burnout with some downtime - it's better for your brain.

You can prepare for a long tail out to retirement rather than abrupt halt. A chief complaint about retirement in this country is that many people think of it as a switch--either it's on and you're working full time, or it's off and you're completely retired. I'm thrilled to say that this is changing, and one way it can change is through a modified or shorter work week. Maybe you work 40-hour weeks in your 20s, then later on downshift to a 32-hour work week, then maybe become a consultant/1099 or even cut back to 3 days a week later, etc. It's a long tail phase out of the full time work to part time, to consulting rather than all on or all off. There are entire new companies around this concept too - one I know of in my industry is YourEncore. It's a great model, and one that all baby boomers now retiring or getting ready to retire should consider! (We even have a talk coming up at HBA IN's inaugural healthcare career development unconference on this exact topic for late career development!)

You have more time to network and meet others OUTSIDE of our organizations, which brings value to you AND your day job. If you work for a big company and think your job is 'safe' and you don't need to network outside your organization, you're wrong. Not only is it good for you to network outside of your organization for YOU personally, but it's also GREAT for your employer! One more time on a study I just shared again today from MIT on IBM employees - for every contact an IBM employee had outside IBM, the value back to the organization of that contact was around $948 per contact. (This study is in this book, BTW.) And that's an old study - I'm sure that number has well exceeded $1000 by now. Think about that--when you have a wide and diverse network personally, you're also bringing value back to your organization too. When you have a modified work week, you can rock external networking and help not only your own career, but your employer AT THE SAME TIME. How awesome is that?

Now, there are all kinds of issues to consider when wanting to downshift to less than 40 hours - and that could be another entirely different book, let alone long post at LinkedIn. But, I wanted to first share with you the advantages for considering a less than 40-hour work week as a starting point for your consideration. In this era of 24/7/365 when it comes to pretty much everything being on all the time, shouldn't we start considering more time to shut off the noise and really do some deep thinking, meditating, which in turn could allow us to create an entirely new and better society for humankind and potentially our own peace of mind? It's worth a ponder.

Erin Albert is president of HBA Indiana.

  • Perspectives

    • Greg Ballard is the former mayor of Indianapolis and a co-founder and current board member of Indy Women in Tech.

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