It’s a Thursday morning. Your alarm blares to life on your bedside table, and you groan as you fumble around in the dark trying to turn it off. It’s already 6. Already time to get up and head to work again. You stumble into the kitchen hoping that making some coffee will return the senses you have lost during the few hours of sleep that you managed to get. You realize that you forgot to grind your beans the night before, which means that you are about to wake up every other person in your house. This will inevitably lead to you making breakfast for your kids, searching for your partner’s lost keys, and spilling something on yourself at least once, resulting in an outfit change. By the time you finally get everyone to school and have a moment of peace, during your commute to the office, you find yourself already burnt out and the day has barely begun. You love your job, but that doesn’t make mornings any less stressful. You look forward to the weekends when you don’t have to wake up before the sun. You count down the days to your hard-earned vacations, or even the rare and coveted three day weekends. But for the most part, these are very few and far between. In the meantime, stress levels rise, productivity falls, and mental health dives head first into a shallow pool.
Countless studies have now been done about the decline of mental health in adults and how it correlates, in many cases, to people being overworked. According to a research paper published by the International Labour Organization, “Working excessively long hours on a regular basis has been shown to reduce hourly productivity due to greater fatigue, and those workers with long hours and /or heavy workloads report decreasing job satisfaction and motivation.”
Too much work, not enough play
It is clear that Americans, in general, experience a lot of stress. Stress leads to higher cortisol levels, and higher cortisol leads to poor performance. An article published in Scientific America references a study of over 2000 adults. The study found that people with the highest levels of cortisol “performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception and attention.” If that is not a good enough reason to want your employees to be less stressed, then I don’t know what is.
In 2018, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey of working Americans about the effects of vacation time on stress level. In this survey of over 1500 people, they discovered that the overwhelming majority report lingering positive effects, even after their vacation time is over. The survey shows that following vacation time, employees feel that they are more productive and have a higher quality of work. They also have more energy and motivation, feel less stressed, and have a more positive attitude overall. The survey also shows that over a quarter of people feel unable to take time off due to their workload, missed opportunities at work, or even personal guilt.
All the research points in the same direction. Too much work and not enough play makes Jack a dull boy. Or a stressed and unproductive boy, I should say.
What if I told you that companies could achieve less stressed and happier employees while still having all work completed and not spending a penny more?
Offering unlimited paid vacations and mental health days would be, to put it mildly, quite difficult for most businesses to pull off. Some employees would inevitably abuse the system and shirk their responsibilities. On the other side of the coin, there are still the employees who just don’t take any time off, because of the reasons mentioned in the study above (workload, missed opportunities, personal guilt). So even offering unlimited paid time off, assuming it could be done, would still not solve how overworked we are. But some companies have discovered a clever way to get their employees to take more days off.
The 9/80 schedule
Have you heard of the 9/80 schedule? Until recently I had not. But it is a very simple concept with very profound effects:
9/80 Schedule = 9 days and 80 hours worked in a two week period
The easiest way to break it up would be nine work days at approximately nine hours each. But it could be broken up in a variety of ways. The second most popular option is eight hour shifts for five days of the first week and ten hour shifts for four days of the second week. If implemented correctly, employees could have a three day weekend every other week. Obviously for some businesses that run five, or even seven, days a week and need people present on all of those days, employees would have to alternate days off with their coworkers. Regardless of how it pans out, being able to accomplish the same amount of work and get the same paycheck, with one less day of work per pay period, would sound like a dream come true to any full-time employee. And based on the earlier mentioned studies, increased productivity and decreased stress levels after time off, mean more effective and motivated employees. Which, inevitably, equals a company that performs better. Imagine having 26 three day weekends per year, in addition to your paid time off and holidays. Just the thought of that makes me feel more relaxed.
I think we are seeing a big shift in American workplaces. A shift that focuses on caring for the employees and making sure that they feel valued and not taken advantage of. Creating a workplace that values employee’s time and mental health means fostering a team who will put themselves, heart and soul, into your business. Employees are the backbone of any successful company. Take care of them and they will take care of you!