Can a Shorter Work Week Lead to Greater Productivity in Your Small Business?

Shorter Work Week

You might have heard about Microsoft’s recent 4-day work week experiment in Japan. Without extending the length of those days to make up for the extra day off, the new schedule resulted in happier employees who received the same pay and were 40 percent more productive. Of course, your business is much smaller than Microsoft’s Japan facility — and the Japanese culture is quite different from ours. You may still run on a shoe string with fewer employees than you need while wondering how you can ever get all the work done.

As your business ramps up after the shut-down, shortening employee hours might be a logical step during the transitional period. But, it’s hard to imagine how you could ever continue to reduce employees’ weekly work hours once increased sales require greater productivity.

Would it make sense to reduce employee work hours in these conditions? If the change was guaranteed to increase productivity by 40 percent, then the answer is …

The Pros and Cons Are Not Immediately Obvious

The decision to make such a substantial change in work hours is not an easy one. Since it’s hard to take away new benefits once you issue them, you need to get it right the first time to avoid losing many of the team members that you value. Here are some questions to carefully consider before making your decision.

Can You Afford This Type of Cut Back?

When you reduce employee hours, for example, from 40 to 30 hours within a 5-day week, you might realize some minor savings – particularly if employee compensation remains the same. Still, without shutting the building down entirely by closing down for an extra day, those savings will not be dramatic. Yes, things like water and other utility usage will diminish a bit, but the largest costs are likely to remain stable.

Still, you might realize some unexpected savings that come from your employees. They will have more time for R&R, which can improve their overall attitudes in the workplace. This leads to happy, rested workers who are healthier and potentially more productive. Reports indicate that some businesses are seeing reduced employee sick time. Plus, they find that higher employee satisfaction increases retention rates, which can result in lower employee acquisition costs.

Of course, every situation is unique. Before making this change, you should closely examine current versus expected costs and savings. Then, pull out an up-to-date version of your budget to identify current costs and figure out how they will change.

Can Your Employees Handle it Responsibly?

Reducing work hours is only effective if you can do it without losing the productivity that you now have. To accomplish this, your employees need to be willing to consistently change some behaviors that may be eating into their output right now, such as the following:

  • Socializing excessively
  • Conducting elaborate office politics campaigns to get ahead of their peers
  • Taking more than the allotted time during lunch or break times
  • Day-dreaming
  • Using their phones for entertainment and shopping
  • Slowing down production toward the end of the day

You may be surprised to learn that, in a recent report, employees admitted to wasting as many as three hours during each work day. If you want them to maintain current productivity – or achieve the 40 percent productivity gains sited in the Microsoft experiment —they need to become more consistently devoted to their work.

If you would need to resort to micromanagement to improve their work habits, then it may not be time to reduce work hours.

What Changes Will You Need In Order to Make it Work?

The short answer is that you have to operate more efficiently than you do now. This means that you have to root out cumbersome processes and streamline them. You might have to change how assembly lines work to remove even minor bottlenecks. Or, you may need to redesign office space to reduce the need for employees to leave their desks as often to accomplish their tasks.

Naturally, you will also need to train your employees to work more adeptly. A major part of this training is encouraging them to look at their work flow with the eye of an efficiency expert. Since they’re on the front line, they know what tasks need improvement. Always keep your door wide open to hear their suggestions.

How Will Reduced Hours Affect Your Employees — And Your Customers?

The chances are that reduced hours will initially make your employees happy. But once the newness wears off, you may see some resentment when they realize that they have to actually work for the major portion of their day. You may have to correct team members who socialize too much, but choose your words carefully to avoid too much anger from them.

Your customers are a different story. They only benefit from the new work week if you manage to reduce delivery times due to your more-efficient operation. That said, your customers continue to expect the same level of support during normal business hours. You may need to stagger employee hours to ensure that customers receive the support that they need.

There’s also the issue of working at customer sites, which is common for consulting and repair businesses. The overall rule here is that this type of work occurs during the customer’s business hours, regardless of how many hours are required.

Bottom line: customers should not recognize that your business now operates on a shorter work week.

Done Correctly, Reduced Work Hours Should be Positive for Everyone in Your Business

If you plan carefully and obtain full team buy-in, you may see increasing employee satisfaction as they adjust to their new processes and schedules. Even if you don’t see a 40 percent increase in productivity like Microsoft experienced, an increase in output is not out of the question.

Still, are you happier, too? If you achieve shorter employee work days by taking on more of the load yourself, you are more likely to experience eventual burnout. When making your plans, avoid doing it by shouldering the extra burden. Your employees will be more contented with a happy, clear-thinking boss at the helm.

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