A little over one hundred years ago, a New England mill instituted the five-day workweek to accommodate Jewish and Christian day of rest observances. The masses followed suit. This five days on, two days off cadence still exists, but to put it simply, it is inefficient.
Employees run out of steam working eight or more hours a day for five days straight. My colleagues at Miami University and I recently conducted research illustrating this exact point. Across two different samples, we found that employee motivation and performance steadily decline across the five-day workweek. We are conditioned to work hard at the beginning of the week, but we lose focus as the weekend approaches.
Another problem is that thanks to technology, the eight-hour, “9-to-5” workday is a mirage. We think it exists, but it doesn’t. We are constantly checking in and refreshing our inboxes. And this extra time spent on work work hours either go unnoticed by employers or go unregulated by employees.
It’s time to get realistic about how people work in the 21st century. To the degree that we can acknowledge what is actually happening—and what is actually effective—we can begin to experiment with work hours in ways that simultaneously increase productivity and well-being.