Sixteen months ago, I announced to my staff we were going to give a 35-hour workweek a trial run. For 90 days, we'd see if working seven hours per day (without a reduction in pay) had positive outcomes. I told the team I would not do this test unless they were willing to accept that at the end of the trial, I might say it was time to go back to the 40-hour routine. They agreed.
Fast-forward to today, and we're still on the 35-hour-per-week schedule.
Since implementing the shorter workweek, our company, WorkItDaily.com, broke through a two-year sales plateau and is growing at a solid rate. Plus, I feel this is the strongest performing team I've ever had. And, while I think my team truly enjoys the benefits of shorter days, which include bypassing peak commute times, scheduling flexibility for activities outside of work, and more time to devote to their personal lives, I personally feel as the CEO that I have benefited from it the most. In my opinion, here are three ways it has made me a better leader:
1. Defining roles and setting reasonable expectations
I didn't want to become a crazy, micromanaging boss. For peace of mind, I needed to make sure the team adapted their work styles as effectively as possible. We started by making sure everyone knew what his or her core responsibilities were and that they were always their first priority to complete. From there, we held one another accountable to make sure all employees were focused on becoming more and more efficient at their core duties, so they could free up their time to work on what we call "reach" projects: projects that are more exciting and allow them to build their skills and add more value to the organization. I found this process helped us develop heightened trust and accountability among one another. Now, I never have to worry about whether things are getting done. I know if someone is working on a reach project, the person's core work is under control.
2. Getting clear on our "planned neglect"
This one was particularly hard for me, but also turned out to be the most beneficial to the company. As an entrepreneur, I am hardwired to come up with a lot of ideas. Brainstorming and trying new things is in my DNA. If I can't pursue new ideas regularly, I get restless. My team knows this is my blessing and curse. That said, a shorter workweek meant I'd have to get choosier about what I wanted to test or create. It required prioritizing initiatives and agreeing as a team on which ones we should work on. Now, only those with the highest ROI make the list. The rest of the ideas get put on the "planned neglect" list. Each month, we come back and look at that list to see if something should become a priority. As a leader who can easily get distracted with new ideas, this forced me to get realistic about my expectations and stay on track with our defined goals. More important, it put the team's minds to rest that I, as the leader, knowingly accept we can't do it all.
3. Thinking twice before asking for something
Within the first few weeks, I quickly realized asking people for something at 4 p.m. was a problem. If I needed their assistance, I had to ask sooner, and provide enough time during the week for them to incorporate it into their workload. I soon realized how much I was asking for things that weren't really necessary. I found myself telling myself, "I can either do this myself, or unfairly take an employee away from their own work." Ultimately, pulling back on my requests put less stress on the team. It also gave them more time and energy to concentrate on the things that mattered most. No wonder productivity soared!
Sadly, this won't work for a lot of CEOs.
While the 35-hour schedule ended up working for me, it's likely not ideal for many others. Why? It won't work for those still caught up in the belief that working hard means putting in long hours. Mentally, they're biased toward the employee who stays late and comes in early. They think loyalty to the company is best expressed by logging more hours. I am a mother of two kids and married to a commercial pilot who travels for a living. Doing more in less time is my mission in life! For the shorter workweek to succeed, you must:
A) Be OK with watching people walk out the door early.
B) Build your business model around the scarcity of time.
C) Reward people for exceeding expectations in a compressed time frame.
D) Get genuinely excited about giving your staff more time to pursue other interests.
If you can't see yourself doing the above, then don't bother trying.
But, if the idea of becoming a better leader while also giving your staff a huge perk that makes them want to stay at your company sounds good, then the 35-hour workweek might be the right move for you!