Among Pang's examples: A surf company in San Diego increased its annual revenues from $5 million to $7.5 million when it switched to a five-hour work day. A restaurant owner in Edinburg cut the number of days a week his establishment was opened, increased vacation time and made renovations to the kitchen so the chefs could cook more efficiently. After a year, he saw happier workers, who were working harder in four days than in five. He also could spend more time developing the menu and even found more time to open a second restaurant.
Employees are more focused, there are better divisions between work time and social time, there's a lot chatter in the office, and employees can squeeze in creativity-boosting activities outside of work that they normally wouldn't have time for during a traditional workweek, Pang asserts. The companies also see declines in sick days since their workers have more time to take care of themselves and visit doctors for preventative care visits, he notes.
Pang is a futurist by profession, with a doctorate in the history of science from the University of Pennsylvania, whose background includes work as a research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank in Palo Alto focused on forecasting practical future scenarios for governments and companies, and as a visiting scholar at Stanford University.
In an interview with The Almanac, he said he was surprised to find that there are a number of businesses all over the world, across a variety of industries — software companies, restaurants, nursing homes, and even a rice mill company in Japan — that are already experimenting with shorter workweeks for their employees.
In researching material for his book, he interviewed leaders of companies that cut hours, but kept salaries consistent with what they were when the businesses operated under a 40-hour workweek.
"There's a kind of culture change (at these companies) around the way people think about time," he says. "As one (company) founder put it: 'Anyone can sit in a chair for 12 hours a day; what impresses me is a person who can do work in six hours and get out of there.' We use time as a proxy for productivity, and moving away from that is an important thing and a challenge."
Pang spent about a year working on "Shorter," interviewing founders and their employees from more than 100 companies across the globe. He found them through Google searches, sifting through newspaper articles and industry magazines, and reading self-reported company case studies on their shorter workweeks.
Does he see this trend taking hold in the U.S. — even in Silicon Valley — anytime soon? Yes and no. Pang thinks the trend is growing, but some companies are often held back from making changes to their work schedules because of habit.
"Silicon Valley can disrupt absolutely everything except working hours," he says. "The idea that success doesn't come from 90-hour weeks and sleeping under desks is like medieval sorcery or something. We have a culture that treats burnout as an occupational hazard."
The shorter workweek can look "really counterintuitive" if you've spent your life competing over who can work the longest, and if you carry the assumption that there's a correlation between working longer and getting more done, Pang says.
The reason that businesses such as restaurants or software firms are some of the first to try out these new schedules is that their industries often grapple with recruitment, retention and burnout challenges, he explains.
"People are leaving their fields, or worse, because of the intensity or pressure," Pang says. "It's about building companies that aren't going to flame out in a couple of years."
A shorter workweek is also a "simple, elegant" solution to a handful of problems that are often handled through piecemeal, smaller-scale initiatives such as flexibility to work from home, he says. More flexible policies, he adds, can make coordination between employees difficult, or make employees fear that their flexible schedules signal they are less invested and committed to their careers.
Pang notes that he's already seeing more companies implementing shorter workweeks since he finished the book.
"There are signs it's a global movement that's only beginning," he says, adding that he's seeing the idea being proposed on agendas for government organizations, hospitals and law firms.
"Shorter" is a follow-up to Pang's 2016 book, "Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less," which explores how rest refocuses the mind and re-energizes people to work more creatively and productively, providing insights on how some of the most creative and prolific people in history — such as Beethoven, Thomas Jefferson and C.S. Lewis — incorporated rest into their daily lives.
While promoting that book, he recalls, he was asked many times how people such as working mothers or professors could take lessons from the book and apply them in their own lives, which prompted him to explore how some companies are creatively working to help their employees achieve a better work-life balance.
Pang also wrote "The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul" in 2013, which addresses technology's capacity to degrade our ability to focus and our overall quality of life.
Last fall he founded a startup called Strategy and Rest, which builds on the research and insights from "Shorter" to help companies and organizations design shorter workweeks.
For more on the author and his work, go to askpang.com.
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