Flex-time, telecommuting, job-sharing. It seems as though these ideas hit their peak a few years back, before the financial crisis struck fear into the heart and soul of every company. Rather than working fewer hours, those lucky enough to have jobs appear to work around the clock, consistently tethered to work by the device of their choice (personally, I have a very unhealthy attachment to my BlackBerry.)
Logically speaking, productivity should determine our work life and not some rigid adherence to the clock. But in most corporate environments, the pressure of presenteeism can be overwhelming. One senior editor at a high-end celebrity magazine told Femmeonomics that she often stays late at the office unnecessarily, despite having two young children waiting at home, so that she doesn’t seem like a slacker to her subordinates.
For professional women with young children, the panacea seems to be the mythical “20-hour work week.” I say mythical since I’ve yet to meet a professional under the age of 65 who enjoys a rewarding career and a solid paycheck while working so few hours.
Still, many smart people insist that it can be done, at least at certain points in their career. In 2008, entrepreneur Adam McFarland blogged about cutting down on his workload, citing studies that show working fewer hours forces you to be more productive. (By the way, having worked in a corporate environment for close to 15 years, I concur. I’m not convinced anything other than checking emails and cc-ing others gets done after 2 p.m most days.)
“After our initial ‘start-up’ phase, my business partners and I created flexible schedules for ourselves that allowed us to work in shorter, more intense bursts. For a while I was pretty rigid with my schedule and was able to routinely accomplish my day-to-day tasks and my programming projects in 20 – 30 hours a week,” explains Adam, co-owner of Pure Adapt, Inc.
Unfortunately, as their company grew, so did the number of hours Adam and his co-workers clocked. He now works more than 40 hours a week. Adam feels this added workload is temporary and hopes to hire next year in an effort to return to his ideal work week.
“I absolutely think that a 20 hour workweek is possible with the right systems in place.”
Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, assistant director at the Boston College Center for Work & Family agrees but acknowledges that these workers only compose a small part of the workforce.
“In general, we see workers moving more toward a “Protean Career” model, where the individual is really self-directing the progression of their careers rather than relying on an organizational ladder,” says Jennifer. ”We are also seeing a rise in the number of entrepreneurs who are using their skills to start their own business or create a ‘portfolio career’ and not be constrained by the parameters of a typical full-time position.”
In other words, done correctly, a savvy-entrepreneur can enjoy success without being chained to a 40-plus-hours-a-week-in-a-cubicle scenario.
So here’s the question: how do we get people to pay less attention to the clock and more to productivity? If you happen to be one of those mythical 20-hour-a-week workers, I want to hear from you.