We’re all working longer hours, and getting home later. However, one professor wants to send us all home early. Could work.
Recently, a response was made to an Atlantic article pointing out the mismatch between the average child’s school schedule and the average parent’s working one, a Wharton professor offered a solution: What if we all just left the office around the same time kids leave school?
“Instead of making school days longer, let’s make work days shorter: they should finish at 3pm,” Grant posted on LinkedIn. “We can be as productive and creative in 6 focused hours as in 8 unfocused hours.”
It’s a suggestion that seems so obviously stupid it might be elementary, but it is in line with a growing movement across industries to rethink the long-standing assumptions about how work should get done. After all, the conditions of our usual workday were created at a time when the technology to accommodate flexible work did not exist. You had to be at work to do work. This was your button to push.
Psychologist Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has suggested restructuring careers to accommodate more breaks and returns over a longer total span. She advocates that apprenticeships, education, and part-time work should extend well through the thirties—which often are also the years in which people are raising young children.
Despite the simplicity of Grant’s idea, putting it into effect would require systemic changes, beyond having workers simply focus more intensely during their day. Some jobs demand an amount of work that’s difficult to compress into eight hours a day. If workers are already stressed, cutting the number of hours they have to do their work but not the amount of work that must be done is counterproductive. Therefore, it won’t work for those. You could easily assume that this lack of balance would see less valuable jobs become more valuable. The pay might be less, but you do get to see your kids grow up.
Maybe what is needed, is a choice. Finish at three for those who wish to have a life after work, or the usual hours for those whose life is tied up in their career.