Facebook senior executive Sheryl Sandberg recently made headlines for her long-term commitment to 40-hour workweeks. Each day, she leaves the office at 5:30 pm in order to be home at night with her children.
Is this really so radical an idea that it merits international media coverage? Have North American companies become such sweatshops that the traditional workweek is now considered minimum fare? Coverage of Sandberg's 'confession,' as it were, would suggest the answer is yes, but there is also more to the story. New research shows that employers are slowly backing off of overtime demands.
According to the latest National Study of Employers the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resources Management:
- 77% of companies use flex time and periodically change starting and quitting times, up from 66% in 2005.
- 87% allow for time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without sacrificing pay, up from 77% in 2005.
- 63% allow for at least some work-at-home arrangements, up from just 34% in 2005.
- 44% grant control over paid and unpaid overtime hours, up from just 28% in 2005.
Smart. More than a century ago, management thinkers concluded that the incremental benefits of working 60 rather 40 hours in a single week would disappear after the first month. The message? Rest creates productivity.
Even so, white-collar workers have greater access to of work-life benefits. Manufacturing operations are necessarily run with more rigidity, with hard-fought work rules hammered out between management and union representatives over the course of decades. Yet even here, on the factory floor, a little creativity can go a long way. Here are five ideas for boosting freedom and productivity on the line:
- Design staggered shifts. Introduce more frequent breaks. Allow employees to work in short bursts that maximize productivity rather than forcing long shifts of standing, sorting, and assembling. After all, workers who spend more time on their feet performing repetitive tasks are more likely to suffer from repetitive stress injuries such as back pain, which in turn can lead to sick time or, worse, liability claims.
- Experiment with off-hours. The line needs to run for a certain amount of time, but does it always need to be 9-to-5? How about 9 to 2 pm and midnight to 5 am? Allow workers the flexibility to be on the line during off-hours in order to meet commitments or handle family duties.
- Manage to tasks rather than hours. The punch clock is outdated. Your line already has production goals specified by management and dictated by customer orders. Work to the list rather than the clock, parsing out tasks for workers organized into teams. Use internal communications tools to create a leaderboard that shows which teams are accomplishing the most tasks, and then reward winners creatively.
- Throw out the vacation policy. Traditionally, employees earn vacations days in accordance with time served -- as if work were a prison and time off a weekend furlough. Why not change the incentive? Grant days in accordance to tasks completed with exceptional skill or ahead of deadline. In this way, workers get the opportunity to share in the benefits of enhanced productivity.
- Reward creatively. This should go without saying but be specific and creative about rewarding work and behaviour that lead to higher productivity. Give extra days off. Get the executive team sponsor a team dinner for workers and their families at a local restaurant. Create custom jerseys for teams that accomplish especially difficult tasks. Take extra time to recognize the work that delivers tangible results to customers and shareholders.
When the work gets done isn't the issue. What matters is the line perform at the highest possible level. Give workers the proper incentives and they will make sure that it does.
John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a provider of employee rewards and recognition programs.