The time has come: new research shows that workers want “less work,” and only feel ambitious when their work-life balance is in tact. In other words, the days of “striving to get ahead” are being replaced with a new pragmatic workforce attitude: “I will work hard as long as I’m paid for it.”
Research from Qualtrics shows that 36% of employees have “reduced their ambitions” and only 22% want to work harder. This data, coupled with the fact that only 57% of employees believe their pay reflects their performance, is a wake-up call for management.
This indicates a new equation for employee engagement and productivity. No longer can managers expect people to put in extra hours: it has to pay off for them. It’s pragmatic but also based on reality. As one meme puts it, “I’m going to act my wage.” (Read the Urban Dictionary definition.)
The Four-Day Work Week Project Reinforces This Trend
Before I explain why this is happening, let me point out another astounding project: the Four Day Week project. Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, two researchers from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, have completed a groundbreaking study in partnership with Boston College, University College Dublin and Cambridge University. 33 companies with a total of 903 employees voluntarily reduced work to four days (32 hours but paid for 40 hours) and went through a series of interviews and surveys to assess results.
Guess what: 91% of the companies want to continue, and the average rating of the trial was 9 out of 10. Every single measure of success (employee wellbeing, quality of work, commitment to the organization, and overall productivity) was positive. Staff had more time to exercise, more time for hobbies, and more time with their families. There was almost a 10% increase in employees saying “they’re doing their best work.” And average revenue for these small companies went up by 37%!
No, I’m not kidding. You do not have to ask your employees to burn themselves out and sleep in the office to grow and perform.
What Is Going On? Eliminate Meetings And Give People More Free Time
I’ve studied this trend for many years, and much of this is discussed in my book Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of the World’s Most Enduring, Employee-Focused Organizations. Let me briefly explain, and I encourage you to read our upcoming 2023 Predictions report or join my webinar on January 18 to hear more.
First, much of the time we spend at work is bogged down with coordination, bureaucracy, and alignment. Every meeting with more than four or five people degrades into an “information session” which can often be replaced by an email, audio message, or video communication. New Microsoft Viva Insights data shows that more than 60% of people “multi-task” during meetings (they’re really doing something else), clearly pointing out how much time we are wasting.
When you reduce staff size and cut out the communications, people simply get more done. We run our company with a philosophy that “clients come first” so if you’re on a client call, you can simply skip the meeting and watch the recording. (We record every meeting we have on Teams, and anyone can replay any meeting.)
Expect more of this to come: the CEO of Shopify just did a “calendar purge” and told their employees to skip meetings they believe are wasting their time. And another study just found that fully one-third of all business meetings are a waste of time. (Check out Asana’s Fixing Meetings Playbook for a good approach to purging low value meetings. It essentially recommends that you ask employees to rate the quality of meetings so you can just ditch the worthless ones.)
Consider Shopify’s latest move: They are essentially killing Slack, removing every employee from every existing public channels, deleting message history, and capping public channels at 150 uses. The idea was to turn Slack into a platform for direct messaging, with the rest of the company’s communications moving to Workplace by Meta. (From Business Insider.)
Incidentally, my research indicates that Slack, as a tool, has created a huge burden on employees. Not only does it waste time with its noisy, never-ending chirping, but it encourages Twitter-like chatting that crushes productivity and creates stress. Stewart Butterfield (founder) sold the company at its peak (to Salesforce) and has now left.
Second, there is a real value in what we often call “slack time.” In other words, when you have “nothing to do” and you run the company with “over-capacity,” people will think, educate themselves, and innovate. Studies done at Mercadona, Costco, and other companies show that retailers that overstaff their stores (they schedule extra staff) end up with higher profits as a result. Why does this happen? People have time to clean the aisles, help customers, and rearrange items to make them easier to find.
Third, people want purpose and inspiration at work. The Qualtrics research shows that “meaning and purpose” remains the #1 driver of employee engagement. It always has been and it always will be. If your people are over-worked, tired, or stressed out you better have a lot of “meaning” fueling that energy.
Fourth, we have to remember that every work relationship is a two way street. Employees are not indentured servants: they chose to give us their time, energy, and family time. We, as employers, have to make sure that the equation is balanced. Simply giving an employee a big bonus does not make up for the time they lost with their children, parents, or spouse.
(The following will help you understand, taken from Urban Dictionary.)
You Can Be An Irresistible Organization
As we talk about with our clients, employee burnout is not a “benefits problem” – it’s a “design problem.” Every HR professional, manager, and leader has to grapple with this complex equation. How do we allocate resources to help build the most productive, engaged, high-performing team we can? It’s not easy and it’s not simple (ask Elon Musk).
But it’s not as hard as you think. Most companies have a lot of low hanging fruit. Starbucks knows why its Baristas are burned out – now they need to redesign the operation to fix the problem. You, as a manager, can figure out what’s driving your team crazy if you listen, pay attention, and care.
If you want to dig into these issues, let us know. We can benchmark your company using the model below and show you the “hot spots” in a short period of time. One client, for example, found out that their biggest issue is their “culture of trust.” This deficit, which some companies create, just makes it even harder for employees to lean in, so they ask for more money and disengage at work. It’s like a hidden tax they’re paying, and the CEO is now addressing the problem.
Less Is More
As Marie Kondo points out, sometimes it’s ok to “thank your old stuff” and throw it away. Remember that work is not just a place to “get stuff done.” It’s a place to grow, build, and create. The word “productivity” does not only mean “get more stuff done in less time.” Productivity is measured as “total output per hour of work.” In other words you don’t manage productivity one person at a time.
We, as HR and business leaders, have to get much smarter about organization design, work design, and our singular role as leaders. Give people the tools and skills they need and then get out of the way. Let them deliver, thrive, and grow. You may be surprised to see how much gets done in so little time.