What is the Ideal Work Week?


I have read a lot of different theories on what the ideal work week should be for creative knowledge workers. This includes software developers, but the basic concepts can apply to market researchers as well. (Or any kind of creative knowledge worker.)

If you want to skip to the end, they all basically say we should work fewer hours, get more sleep and work when we are feeling “in the zone.” A recent article in the Atlantic suggests that a six hour work day that starts later and ends earlier (10-4ish) is the best strategy for a more productive, engaged and happy knowledge worker. The article also suggests that paying workers more (about 12.5%) while reducing the hours will also boost worker happiness and theoretically productivity as well.

A six hour work day that starts later and ends earlier (10-4ish) is the best strategy

Happy workers!This sounds great to me and I do think it would work if it were accepted both by management and socially as well. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen in most workplaces as there is a bias against the idea of being happy at work and there is a deeply ingrained North American ideal of “grinding it out” by working many, many hours in order to be successful. (Never mind that executives go on retreats, golf on Fridays and take 6-7 weeks of vacation…)

37 Signals do some great work and make some fantastic software by working less (sort of) and keeping their workers happy. They have some brilliant theories on the new kind of mobile and geographically dispersed workforce.  They even wrote a book about it called Rework. (give your boss a copy!)

The digital disruption occurring right now means more and more people will either demand a new kind of workplace or simply create their own. The tools available right now (many of them low cost or free) are enabling people to improve their work/life balance. This improvement could come by redesigning their current work or by designing their own life/work balance.

The social stigma is harder to crack as everyone thinks you are lazy if you want to work less. I don’t understand this as it has nothing to do with lazy, but everything to do with less wasting time and a better balance between life and work. The flip side to all this utopian happy working is that if you are unable to do the work, you will be fired or not find repeat clients. It actually is harder to work this way, but so much more rewarding.

In our current 40+ hour week environment, it is easy to hide at one’s desk, spend hours (days?) looking at Facebook (delete your account!) and pretend to work without really doing much and miss out on great moments in life.

Work less, make more money and be happy – who can argue with that?


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