What are our ideal work hours?

What are our ideal work hours?

For the past several years there’s been intense debate about the ideal work hours for maximum productivity and morale.

Across the U.S. and internationally, many companies have begun to offer more flexible, autonomous work schedules including work-from-home opportunities, four-day work weeks, eight-hour shifts that fall outside the traditional window of 9-to-5, and special summer hours including summer Fridays. Large brands such as Amazon, KPMG, Viacom, and even the U.S. government have all started to experiment with alternative work schedules.

Why all the interest in nontraditional work hours? Research suggests employees feel happier, less stressed, and more satisfied in roles that offer more autonomy. This boost in morale then translates into serious improvements in productivity.

More and more, researchers and business executives support the idea that American workers would prefer to shake up their work hours. But how do alternative schedules play out in the workplace, and how do workers feel about these changes?

To explore that question, Quill recently conducted an original survey that sought to find out how Americans feel about alternative work schedules, including when they feel most productive. Here’s what we found.

Survey says

Our survey collected responses to 10 questions from 350 qualifying participants on the Google Opinion Rewards app. The survey ran from May 25 to May 27, 2018. Participants were U.S.-based men and women between the ages of 25 and 54.

Here’s an overview of our findings.

  • Roughly 1/5 of respondents work a traditional 9-to-5 job.
  • One quarter of respondents work a traditional eight-hour shift, but not from 9 to 5.
  • Nearly 2/3 of respondents have some degree of autonomy in their work hours.
  • Just under one­ quarter of respondents work very strict hours and have no flexibility.
  • More than 2/3 of respondents say they would prefer to choose their own start and stop time, but only 37.6 percent of respondents say this is an option at their company.
  • The majority of respondents (73.5 percent) say they would agree to work longer hours if they could also work fewer days per week.
  • The vast majority of respondents (78.1 percent) feel that four-day work weeks are a great idea.
  • Only a tiny number of respondents (5.1 percent) think four-day work weeks are a terrible idea.
  • A little more than 43 percent of respondents say they wish they had summer hours (such as shorter workdays on summer Fridays), but three-quarters do not have summer hours.

Meanwhile, here’s what respondents had to say about their optimum productivity times.

  • When asked which hours of the day respondents feel most productive, the most common response (shared by 36.1 percent of respondents) was between 8 and 10 a.m. The second most common response (25.3 percent) was between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.
  • Different age groups had different opinions about their highest productivity levels. For example:
    • 2 percent of 25- to-34-year-olds feel most productive between 2 and 4 p.m.
    • 6 percent of 35- to-44-year-olds feel most productive between 8 p.m. and midnight.
    • 5 percent of 45- to-54-year-olds feel most productive between 4 and 8 p.m.
  • Productivity levels also differed between genders. For example:
    • The majority of female respondents (77.4 percent) reported feeling most productive between 4 and 8 p.m.
    • The majority of male respondents (70.8 percent) reported feeling most productive between 8 p.m. and midnight.

What are our ideal work hours?

Weighing these results against other research

The findings from our survey compare and contrast to existing research in some interesting ways.

For starters, research suggests the typical American worker is more likely to work 8.8 hours per day as opposed to the traditional eight. (Some sources put that number as high as 9 or 10 hours per day, while others report a lower number. Age, gender, education level, and other factors all influence these numbers.)

Gallup research found the number of Americans who are satisfied with their work hours is around 64 percent. The same poll found 27 percent of Americans are somewhat satisfied with their work hours, six percent are somewhat dissatisfied, and three percent are completely dissatisfied.

When it comes to four-day work weeks, our survey lined up with other polls which suggest the majority of Americans crave a four-day work week. This seems to hold true even if it means working longer hours on those four days.

In terms of summer hours, research suggests the number of employers offering these types of scheduling arrangements spiked in 2012 and has been declining since. This helps explain why so many of our survey respondents reported not having the option for summer hours.

More generally, research suggests flexible scheduling is increasingly in demand. This is true for several reasons.

  • Millennials are becoming the largest workplace demographic—and they strongly prefer flexible working hours. In fact, research suggests 22 percent of millennials would be willing to work longer hours and 82 percent would feel more loyal to their employers if they were given flexible scheduling options. Meanwhile, 34 percent of millennials have left a job because it didn’t offer enough flexibility.
  • The rise of the on-demand and gig economies means many people require more flexibility in their schedules in order to work multiple jobs and make ends meet.
  • Technological advancements mean it’s increasingly unnecessary for workers to always be in the same place at the same time, so people may balk at the idea of being constrained in this way.
  • More and more Americans are concerned with developing a healthier work-life balance and living more holistic lives overall.

Together, these factors help explain why flexible work arrangements are on the rise. One survey found more than three-quarters of companies offer some form of alternative work arrangement—part-time hours, flex-time, telecommuting, or other options.

Bottom line? Even as the traditional eight-hour workday (or something close to it) remains firmly entrenched in our culture, both U.S. workers and employers are open to the idea of shifting hours—a concept that could pay off for businesses and individuals by way of happier, more productive team members.

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What are our ideal work hours?