Let’s face it: the eight-hour work day is a thing of the past. A tidy 9 to 5 schedule may have been a reality for the workforce a decade ago, but no more. According to government statistics, the average work day for American employees is now nearly nine hours, due, in part, to the adoption of technologies like cloud applications and mobile devices.
A focus on the number of hours employees work today may be missing the point, though. What matters is how engaged and productive employees are while they work — whenever and wherever the work gets done. Technology created the mobile workforce, and it can help us modernize the meaning of work-life balance, too.
The Eight-Hour Work Day: A History
The eight-hour work day is rooted in the labor movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. European and American factory workers who felt overworked and underpaid latched on to Robert Owen’s rallying cry: “Eight hours work, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” The Ford Motor Company was among the first companies to implement the eight-hour work day (and the five-day work week, for that matter) for its employees. Sure, Henry Ford’s motivation might have been partly altruistic, but he was also a savvy businessman who needed productive employees on the assembly line — and it worked. Ford’s employees, despite working fewer hours, were more productive.
The eight-hour work day paradigm was effective in the 1920s, but workforces in the digital era are different. “The reason we work eight hours a day isn’t based on science. It’s just a century-old practice based on running factories efficiently — and is irrelevant in today’s creative economy,” writes Leonhard Widrich, co-founder of social media management company Buffer, in the Huffington Post. Widrich is right. We must rethink the work-life equation for the twenty-first century, guided toward a similar end-point: to maximize employee happiness, performance and productivity.
Different Technologies, Same Goal
Our society is more connected today than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans have a smartphone and 42 percent own a tablet. And, increasingly, they use those devices for both work and play. Technology erased the distinction between work and everything else — and it must be part of the answer to a new work hour scheme that keeps employees engaged and productive.
Technology trends offer a glimpse of what this new balance could look like. The consumerization of enterprise technology, for example, highlights the need for tech that isn’t easily compartmentalized between work — and everything else. What’s more, companies are now incorporating game-like experiences into everything from training to employee health and wellness programs. Deloitte gamified its online training programs to make the content enjoyable and engaging for the company’s more than 200,000 employees. Keas, meanwhile, helps companies blend social interaction and gamification into its heath and wellness programs.
We need a new mantra for work-life balance in the BYOD and cloud era. The goal, however, is the same as it’s always been: productive, engaged and fulfilled employees. It’s time to harness technology to solve the future of work question in a way that works for employees and companies alike.