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I recently finished reading, and enjoying greatly, the memoir Shoe Dog, of Phil Knight, co-founder and CEO of Nike (thanks for the recommendation, Peter).

I am sure you won’t be surprised to know that Knight worked incredibly hard, along with many other original and early-days Nike employees, to build a profitable business. Knight put in many long days, weeks, months and years in order to help Nike firstly survive then thrive.

This is a familiar story contained in the memoirs and speeches of entrepreneurs the world over; the long hours necessary to make their dream come true.

Although these hours are the necessary ingredient for entrepreneurs, what about normal employees?   When it’s not your business yet you still care about doing a   good job and making a contribution to the overall company’s success; where’s the balance between working hard enough to deliver great results yet not burn yourself, or your direct reports, out?

This is a subject I have become increasingly interested in as I review my own productivity, both when I was an employee (as a recruiter) and now that I am running my own business (mostly from my home office, 30 minutes’ drive from my sole employee, who works from her home).

The results of a recent company trail of a six hour work day in Sweden  have been so conclusive that the rest of the country’s employers appear to be taking note;

As The Independent  reported earlier this year:

The Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, conducted an experiment to determine whether cutting hours improved patient care and boosted employees’ morale.

Nurses who worked  six-hour days  for the past year were found to be 20 per cent happier and had more energy at work and in their spare time. The 68 nurses also took half as much sick time as those in the control group and were able to do 64 per cent more activities with elderly residents.

They were also 2.8 times less likely to take any time off work in a two-week period

A Toyota centre in Gothenburg implemented shorter working hours over a decade ago, with the company reporting happier staff, a lower turnover rate and an increase in profits.

How did Svartedalens  ensure that the six hours each work spent at work was productive? Among other things they …

  • Banned staff from any form of social media during work hours
  • Reduced the number of meetings to the absolute minimum

Unfortunately it appears that in Australia we appear to be heading in the other direction with a report from November 2014 noting that on average Australian employees are undertaking approximately six
hours per week of unpaid overtime.

Professional services firm EY have taken a substantial interest in this topic by publishing The EY Australian Productivity Pulse.

Here’s what EY reported:

The workers within the Australian workforce who are highly productive (23%) have much in common. These are people whose skills are well aligned to their jobs, work in a supportive culture and are valued for their contribution. Money is not their main motivating factor. They rate satisfaction with the work they do and work/life balance as more important than salary or bonuses.

Contrary to popular belief, the actual time spent at work has little impact on productivity.

The difference is that highly productive workers spend less time travelling to work, take longer breaks, and more time on leisure and recreation  . They also take less than five days of sick leave per year.

This aligns with my own experience as a recruiter. When I worked in Sydney I commuted by ferry. My aim was to catch the 6pm ferry each night as there was a 30 minute wait until the next ferry. This meant leaving the office by 5.45pm as it took me 10-15 minutes to walk to Circular Quay.By arriving home by 6.45pm I had time to get to my local pool for a swim, have dinner and undertake some other form of relaxation before going to sleep.

I also was an active member of a Toastmasters Club which met fortnightly at 6.15pm on a Tuesday. As a regular participant in speech competitions I was often at another Toastmasters event or meeting each week.

As a keen SCUBA diver I regularly went diving on a weekend, often going away to my favourite location, Jervis Bay, for a couple of nights on a live-aboard.

I was able to be highly productivity at work by not working past 6pm and having a full life of sport and recreation outside of work. Both of these things kept me physically and mentally fit and fresh.

The recruitment industry is one with a high turnover and burn-out rate. One of the most important things owners and leaders can do is focus on productivity rather than hours in the office.

Maybe a six hour work day for recruiters is an attainable goal …… by 2050.


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