The argument for the six-hour work day

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If you thought alternative working hours were a child of competitive, creative recruiting environments like technology, look to the maker of some of America’s favorite breakfast cereals. In 1930, W. K. Kellogg – yes, he of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Froot Loops and Pop-Tarts – slashed shifts at production plants from eight hours to six.

This was no employment branding move; it was an effort to increase productivity. At first, the workforce copped a slight pay cut, but then the company noticed that productivity had grown so much that the cost of production per unit was significantly reduced. In 1935, the company reported to a newspaper that cost of production "is so lowered we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight," Information Week reported in 2002.

Now, several companies – and even one government – have been inspired by the idea of questioning the 9-5 status quo.

Artifact Uprising, a small business based in Colorado, is one such company. They recently experimented with six-hour work days – without a corresponding pay cut – after finding that their team was overburdened with work. According to COO Jessica Lybeck, they were “checking email at 4:30 in the morning and working late constantly…the more we discussed this, the more we realized that it could be not adding to productivity.”

It’s only been a few weeks since the six-hour experiment was implemented, so Lybeck was reluctant to make any judgments yet.

“Habits such as working all the time are hard to break, so I think it’s a constant process to see if we can get good at this,” she said. There is, however, an analytical approach to the process. “Each day we are having employees fill out a two-minute survey. It basically says ‘On a scale of 1-5, do I feel productive today? Do I feel overwhelmed? Do I think the experiment is good for the company? Do I think it’s good for the soul?’”

The results of those surveys will help determine whether the six-hour days become a permanent feature of the company.

But for techniques like this to work, it has to be paired with an overall cultural dedication to productivity. For Artifact Uprising, that means that leadership have to be committed to not pushing communication after hours, Lybeck said.

“I don’t think we’ll ever do a formal ban on emails,” she said, “because there are certain times that I need to communicate with a team member in Croatia, but in terms of encouraging people to not be expected to check in on email from a leadership perspective, it seems to be working well so far. Even if I draft a response, I never send after hours, because I never want to start that culture.”
 

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