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Get happier more productive employees and improve diversity

Get happier more productive employees and improve diversity

…all with one simple solution: fewer working hours. 

Most of us have personally experienced the decline in our emotional well-being (and those around us) when we put in too many long days. And we’ve definitely felt that plateau effect that happens when we work beyond the point of productivity. But what effect do long work hours have on diversity? 

Consider what the employee base looks like at a company that requires long hours… It’s typically people who have the ability to arrive early and stay late, which means they probably don’t have a lot of demands outside of the office. We typically assume that it’s women (mothers) who have the demands, but as economist Claudia Goldin notes in her 2014 study on gender equality in the labor market, “…gender equality is not a zero sum game in which women gain and men lose. This matter is not just a woman’s issue. Many workers will benefit from greater flexibility”  (Goldin, A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter). To her point, those “demands” outside the office could be children, or they could be aging parents, or personal doctors appointments, or volunteer work, or even passion projects. 

When our workforce is comprised entirely of people who don’t spend much time caring for family members, or attending to their own health, or contributing to the world in meaningful ways outside of work, then the gender pay gap is just the tip of the iceberg. By setting work parameters that depend on people not having commitments outside of work, we create environments that lack diverse perspectives needed for innovation. Furthermore, our managers and employees don’t have as much empathy for customers who aren’t like them. Our offices lack the energy and vibrancy that can only come from the convergence of people with diverse backgrounds.

In essence, long work hours suppress diversity.  

Can reducing hours lead to an increase in diversity?

When we offer reduced hours for everyone we even the playing field–the jobs become more enticing and more accessible to those who have existing demands; and those who held the long-hours jobs now have more time to actually pursue something meaningful outside of work. The workplace then becomes a place where fresh perspectives start emerging, both as a result of gaining new (more diverse) workers, and because existing staff are now freed up to take a step back and let more light in. 

** Check out the results Perpetual Guardian saw when they reduced hours company-wide: **

Reducing work hours is very possible to do.

While reducing work hours can be a difficult transition–it may require a drastic cultural shift–it is not impossible. NPR reports that even Shake Shack, a restaurant chain, “shortened managers’ workweeks to four days at some stores and found that recruitment spiked, especially among women” (Noguchi, Enjoy The Extra Day Off! More Bosses Give 4-Day Workweek A Try).  

The most important thing to keep in mind when making the change is that it has to apply to everyone. In the recent HBR article, “What’s Really Holding Women Back”, the authors find that “What really held women back was the crushing culture of overwork at the firm. The unnecessarily long hours were detrimental to everyone, but…employees who took advantage of [flex accommodations]—virtually all of whom were women—were stigmatized and saw their careers derailed.” (Ely, Padavic, 2020). 

In order for a fewer-working-hours initiative to be successful, it can’t be optional. We need to make sure it’s adopted by everyone. As leaders, that means we need to clearly communicate the expectations with our employees, trust that they will be able to do their jobs in less time, and lead by example. 

By showing others that our own non-working time is valuable, we light the way for a happier, more productive, and more diverse workplace.

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