Almost everyone I coach says the same thing:
“I don’t actually NEED 40+ hours to do my job most of the time. But that’s the way it is, so I have to be here, whether I have anything to do or not. It’s so frustrating!”
Can you relate?
Sometimes, maybe during a busy season, you legitimately do have 40 or more hours of work to get done each week. But work, just like everything else in life, tends to ebb and flow.
Which means that inevitably, even if you were busy for a period of time, you’re going to end up having plenty of days, weeks, or even months where things are less demanding and you don’t need 40 hours to do your job.
Originally, the 40-hour workweek made more sense. When you were working in a factory during the Industrial Revolution, you could spend 40 or more hours on an assembly line. You had quotas to meet, and the work never ran out.
But nowadays, most of us in the first world would agree that the 40-hour workweek is pretty arbitrary, for reasons like:
- Some people just work faster than others. Not everyone needs the exact same amount of time to complete their work.
- The amount of work we have to do from week to week can fluctuate dramatically. Work naturally ebbs and flows. Sometimes the work itself doesn’t require 40 hours.
- It’s easier than ever to be productive in less time. This is especially true now, thanks to all of our technological advances.
- Not all industries are the same. Applying the 40-hour workweek to every single field implies that there’s a universal metric for productivity. And we know that’s not true.
But here’s the good news:
The 40-hour workweek is on its way out.
More and more companies and leaders are acknowledging its flaws, which means a lot more people are gaining the flexibility, freedom, and autonomy that they crave (and that the Internet has made possible).
I’m guessing that in another 10-15 years, being employed is going to look very different than it does right now. The kind of structure that places like Google pioneered — such as working on your own schedule, working remotely at will, and unlimited vacation time — will be commonplace.
We’re not there yet … but I think if we work together, we can speed up the process.
RAISE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT’S POSSIBLE
There’s a reason why the phrase “employee retention” is such an issue right now (particularly when talking about millennials). People are constantly jumping ship from rigid, old-fashioned, lackluster work environments.
It’s sending a pretty blatant message to corporate America (or wherever else you might be):
Evolve or risk becoming obsolete.
This trend has become pretty impossible to ignore, which is good news for you. It means that more and more companies are wising up about how to retain their employees and keep them happy.
So, if you want to live in a world where the 40-hour workweek is a thing of the past — where autonomy, flexibility, freedom, and trust are the name of the game — you’ve got one big responsibility:
Set your expectations higher.
A lot of us are afraid that the rigid, inflexible, uninspiring work environment is just “how it is,” which leads to us giving up and not asking for more.
I’m here to assure you right now: This is NOT all you can (or should) expect for yourself.
I’ve seen the proof in action with hundreds of clients. There are plenty of jobs and work environments (and even jobs that you create for yourself) that aren’t rigid or outdated and are actually (gasp!) fun and enjoyable.
This seems like an obvious point, but it’s the most important of any I’m going to share:
I’m not necessarily telling you to abandon ship right now if you’re stuck in an environment that isn’t evolving (if you read on, you’ll see that you might be able to make things better without having to leave).
But I am saying that if you’re stuck in a rigid, stifling environment, and you’re staying out of fear that nothing better exists, then your fear isn’t actually valid.
And to be even more blunt (and maybe even slightly controversial about it) … staying in an environment that you hate out of fear or guilt only enables the same system to continue on unabated.
The more unafraid we are to expect better, the more the system must evolve to keep up with our expectations.
BE BRAVE AND ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT (AND THEN PROVE IT)
I think the reason so many old-school corporate types are afraid to replace the 40-hour workweek with a more flexible, autonomous system can be boiled down to one thought:
“Everyone is going to be lazy and get nothing done.”
And like most assumptions, it’s probably based in a little bit of truth. We all know that there are people who would abuse the privileges of flexibility and autonomy and get nothing done.
But that’s not most us. Not even close!
The vast majority of people I’ve met would be far more happy, energized, and productive if their employers trusted them to get their work done in their own time, in their own way.
Being shown trust is a huge vote of confidence, and most people do great work when their leaders believe in them.
But … since a lot of leaders are also slow to initiate change, the fastest way to make change is to ask for it directly.
The best way to ask for more autonomy and freedom is to not go into it expecting carte blanche.
Instead, ask to conduct an experiment.
I had one client who told her boss that she could get her work done more effectively in 4 days instead of 5. She offered to prove it over the span of one month, which she did. Her boss saw how much better this system worked for her, and was happy to let her continue after the month was up.
Another client wanted one work-from-home day a week, but no one else at the company did that, so she assumed it wasn’t possible.
I asked her to talk to her boss about it anyway, just to see what would happen.
After explaining her rationale and offering to do a trial period for a few weeks, her boss said yes. And she continued working from home once a week from then on out.
Just because the system feels unchangeable doesn’t mean it actually is. And just because no one else is doing it doesn’t mean that you can’t. Often, the only thing you need to do to instigate change is ask.
START A MINI REVOLUTION
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Same goes here.
One person in an office requesting more autonomy is nice. But five or ten sends a much stronger message.
If you start expecting more, and asking for it, you might inspire other people around you to do the same. And that would be a good start.
But even better would be if you actively recruited a few people and decided to expect more together.
Even having just one other person who wants the same things you do — and is willing to ask for those things — will make a huge difference in your motivation and solidarity.
So instead of commiserating and complaining with friends at work about how nothing ever changes, and how you’re being micromanaged, and how you’re soooo sick of sitting at a desk all day … use that mental energy to better effect by brainstorming together about how to make things better and how to ask for what you want.
Now I want to hear from you. What’s one way you could personally contribute to the end of the 40-hour workweek? Come share in the comments!
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Rachel (+ Kristen)