By Michael Tedder
October 24, 2019

People, especially Americans, are working longer and longer these days. But what if there was another way? You’ve probably heard of the four-day work week. Well, here’s an idea that overworked employees may find just as appealing: the five-hour workday.

An entrepreneur named Lasse Rheingans, who owns the German tech firm Rheingans Digital Enabler, cut his office’s normal workday down to five hours, and he has found the shortened work hours makes employees feel less overworked even while they can still hit their productivity goals.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Rheingans acquired and then renamed the company in late 2017, and reduced the workday for his 16 employees from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It wasn’t an cost-cutting move, and he didn’t slash anyone’s salaries or benefits, though. Worker pay and vacation time remained at the same levels.

Still, there are some trade-offs. Rheingans says that the workplace should be as focused and distraction-free as possible: “small talk is discouraged,” social media and cell-phones are banned, company emails are to be checked no more than twice a day and no meetings are scheduled to last more than 15 minutes. For many workers, changes like these would be more than welcomed.

Every day, a monitor at the office counts down the remaining hours and minutes. At 1 p.m. the display changes to to “#high5, #feierabend,” which means closing time in German.

Employees admit it can be an adjustment getting used to not texting with family members and producing the same amount of work in three fewer hours daily, without taking what one employee calls “a recharge” or short break. But the employees are reportedly much happier, and are using the saved hours to spend more time with their children, exercise, tackle chores, and pursue their hobbies. It’s also made it easier for the company to recruit employees in Germany’s tight labor market.

Could the shortened workday, well, work for lots of companies? Many workers certainly think so. According to one survey, nearly half of employees said they could do their jobs in less than five hours a day, assuming they weren’t interrupted.

The five-hour workday is part of what the advisory company Gartner, Inc. identifies as a growing trend of employees valuing work-life balance and flexibility over high pay. As Gartner chief Brian Kropp told WSJ, research shows most people are only productive for four or five hours of the workday, so reducing work time doesn’t necessarily cost companies output.

It remains to be seen if Rheingans’s idea will catch on in America. The San Diego company Tower Paddle Boards began a five-hour workday in 2015, but two years later limited that schedule to just five-months of the year. Why? As Chief Executive Officer Stephan Aarstol put it, “everyone’s outside life got so much better, at the expense of their passion for the work.”

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