Pros and Cons of a Five-Hour Workday

Written by: Karen Sams


Staffing Advice: Pros and Cons of a 5-Hour Workday

Research shows–and anecdotal evidence confirms–that workers struggle to remain productive throughout the traditional eight-hour workday. According to research conducted by Lausanne Business Solutions, 48 percent of surveyed workers admitted to working fewer than five hours during their eight-hour workdays, and only 15 percent are working their full seven to eight hours.

Based on the results of similar studies, some businesses have implemented a five-hour workday to maximize productivity and provide workers with greater flexibility for family and personal pursuits. But is it a good idea for small business.


Pro: Happier employees

It’s no secret that most employees appreciate the opportunity to spend more time out of the workplace.

“You’ll have rested employees who aren’t overworked. And if they appreciate the benefits enough, you’ll also have a highly productive staff,” says Andrew Schrage, founder and CEO of Money Crashers in Denver.

Happier workers are also usually more likely to stick around which can lead to lower employee turnover.


Con: Unhappy customers

If your business is customer service oriented, your customers most likely expect to reach your employees during normal business hours.

“If you regularly work with clients and customers who keep normal business hours, they may find that you’re not available as often as they need you to be, and that could negatively impact the business as a whole,” says Katy Imhoff, CEO of Camden Kelly Corporation in Dallas.

One suggestion to counteract this problem is to implement shorter workdays only on certain weekdays–Mondays and Fridays, for example, Imhoff says. Implementing shifts for employees could also solve this problem.


Pro: Potentially more productive employees

“The human brain can’t work for eight hours straight,” says Helene Segura, a productivity and time management consultant and speaker in San Antonio. “We all need breaks. Having ‘only‘ five hours to get things done forces us to concentrate, stay on task, ignore distractions–to get things done.”

It can also result in greater employee accountability. For employees whose productivity is evaluated based on deliverables rather than physical presence in the office, shorter workdays shift the focus from the number of hours they work to what they deliver.

“If you trust your team members and treat them with respect, you won’t need to require them to be at the office for any specified number of hours,” says Robby Slaughter, founder at AccelaWork in Indianapolis.“Instead, you’ll collaboratively define what it means to be valuable and focus on results, not face time.”


Con: Doesn’t work for everyone

Shorter workdays don’t necessarily improve time management skills. While employees with strong time management skills will adapt their shorter workdays to “get things done,” Segura cautions that employees who weren’t efficient during an eight-hour day will be just as “off-task and distracted” during a shorter day.

This is partly why business owners who have implemented these policies report mixed results. Often, the success or failure of the policy depends on the role, responsibilities, and unique traits of the workers.

Brian Hansen, chief investment officer at Nova Legal Funding in Los Angeles, implemented a five-hour workday with two of his full time employees. For one employee, the policy was highly effective. For the other employee, the opposite was true.

“It was mostly due to the type of work they were doing. The employee whose experience was better was working on tasks that were not time sensitive,” he says. “Overall, the lesson we learned was simple: a five-hour workday only works with certain departments and roles within a company. We prefer to reserve the five-hour workday for employees who do creative work, not the day-to-day.”