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A three-hour work day?

February 8, 2018

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Many of us have a hard time getting enough done in an eight-hour workday, but can you imagine a three-hour work day?  Some employers are testing shorter work days or weeks.

According to research conducted by, the average UK office worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes out of a working day.  That’s not even a three-hour work day! When survey respondents were asked what they are doing the rest of time, answers included:

  • Checking social media – 47%
  • Reading news websites – 45%
  • Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 38%
  • Making hot drinks – 31%
  • Smoking breaks – 28%
  • Text/instant messaging – 27%
  • Eating snacks – 25%
  • Making food in office – 24%
  • Making calls to partner/ friends- 24%
  • Searching for new jobs – 19%

When asked how these distractions equate to time, they said:

  • Checking social media – 44 minutes 
  • Reading news websites – 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 40 minutes
  • Making hot drinks – 17 minutes
  • Smoking breaks – 23 minutes
  • Text/instant messaging – 14 minutes
  •  Eating snacks – 8 minutes
  • Making food in office– 7 minutes
  • Making calls to partner/ friends – 18 minutes
  • Searching for new jobs- 26 minutes

That’s 262 minutes or 4 hours and 37 minutes a day being wasted.  Psychologists have found the brain can’t focus on tasks for more than a few hours at a time, which could be a leading factor to so much distraction.  “Toward the end of the day, performance begins to flatline or even worsen,” said K. Anders Ericson, an expert on the psychology of work.  “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.”

More and more companies have started choosing to shorten the workweek, and sometimes the workday. Instead of asking people to work five, eight-hour days, many have switched to working four eight-hour days.  Ryan Carson, CEO of the technology education company Treehouse, has seen his employees become happier and more productive since he implemented a 32-hour work week years ago. 

Some research suggests the smarter change may actually be to work five, six-hour days.  In Sweden, a government study that ran between January 2015 and January 2017 selected roughly 80 retirement-home workers to work that schedule (with full-time pay). At the end of the study, the employees said they were happier, less stressed, and enjoyed work more. After the 30-hour week experiment, work-related illness decreased from 6.4% to 5.8% while the patients experienced better care.  But the reduction in work hours isn’t without negative effects – the nursing home had to hire an additional 15 nurses, costing $735,000.
U.S. companies like KPMG, 37Signals, and Metro Plastics have been successful in maintaining or increasing productivity while supporting concepts like flex times, the compressed work week, and the 30-hour work week for quite some time now. But many companies remain leery due to productivity concerns.  Results have not yet been released from Amazon’s popular 30-hour work week test.

So while a three-hour workday will likely never be the case, a six-hour work day is reasonable and companies utilizing it have seen increased productivity and employee happiness.  It could very well turn out to be a competitive advantage in the fight for talent as well.

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