Ellen Nelson with Monty, 22 months and Toby, 5. Photo / supplied
After interviewing more than 500 parents in six countries, Kiwi academic Dr. Ellen Nelson explains why Kiwi companies should scrap the 9-5 workday.
We are in the midst of the Great Resignation, a global pandemic, a mental health crisis, major technological advancements and a revolt to tackle social inequality, not to mention that New Zealand is not as flashy on in terms of productivity. Now that the war for talent is well underway, I am convinced there is a better way to do work; a way that is both commercially and socially smart: #workschoolhours.
After my PhD, which focused on leadership, well-being and women’s experiences in the labor market, I conducted informal research on the experiences of working parents – my data comes from over 500 parents in different roles and sectors in New Zealand , Australia, UK, US, Canada and Singapore.
What I found is no surprise. What I’ve found is what every parent knows to be true: It’s hard to manage work and family. Parents can either (a) stop working and thus leave the paid workforce, (b) work full-time and miss time with their children, or (c) enter into some sort of part-time arrangement which, in almost all circumstances, involves a reduction of wages, but not with a reduction in workload or output.
As a mother of two young children – a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old – none of these three results is satisfactory to me, and I am convinced that we can do better. It became clear to me that the root cause of these challenges is the fact that we live in a society where work and school are not aligned.
Why is this? Why do we work from 9 to 5? Even for people who don’t work strictly 9 to 5, our employment contracts and all of society are fundamentally built on that construction.
The concept of the 9 to 5 workday was entrenched in our society more than a century ago. At that time, the workforce consisted mainly of men and the home front mainly of women. The 9-to-5 is based on the assumption that every household has a dedicated employee and a dedicated child caretaker. But this does not represent the demographics of the workforce today. Employees and caregivers are the same people. It’s absolutely insane to me that we haven’t changed the way we work to reflect the changing demographics of our workforce, and it’s crazy to me that we live in a society where the schedules of adults and children are different.
So I thought, “here’s a crazy idea: why don’t we reduce the work schedule, to align it with the school schedule, without lowering the salaries: #workschoolhours”. This shouldn’t just be for parents, this should be for everyone.
This gets me very excited: I know that any new way of working has to be commercially smart, and I am absolutely convinced that #workschoolhours can be. It’s about doing more to better coordinate adult and child schedules and give all employees more personal time. This is done by focusing more on output, what we want our employees to deliver, rather than on their input; working hours and place of work. And it focuses on flexibility.
Concepts such as Parkinson’s law — which says work expands to fill the time available for completion — the great traction Andrew Barnes’ four-day workweek is getting around the world, and the hundreds of part-time workers of my research who still have the same workload. as their full-time colleagues, all demonstrate productivity gains to be made. When we focus more on output, we can increase productivity and do the same amount of work in less time.
There is also an argument for the well-being of the staff. If all staff had more personal time outside of work to spend with family or pursue their hobbies, they would be happier, more focused and perform better at work. This in turn leads to better organizational performance and better profits.
From an attraction and retention perspective, just imagine how much talent you could get to work for your organization if you said, “We will never make you feel guilty about your obligations outside of work – we care that you do your job well, not when or where you do it”.
Furthermore, one of the most impactful things an organization can do to increase the representation of women in leadership positions and unlock the massively underutilized portion of the workforce (mothers) is to structure the organization around school hours and then normalize this for everyone. .
#workschoolhours is a commercially and socially smart concept. Organizations can start by simply moving all co-working periods within the school day – no more team meetings at 4pm, and talking to staff to find out how things can be done more efficiently to get work done earlier.
To learn more, check out my #workschoolhours talk and other publications on my website: www.ellenjoannelson.com. The TEDx talk video will be released this year. I now run my own business as a speaker and consultant, helping organizations improve their retention. It is about leadership, well-being and the future of work.
• dr. Ellen Joan Nelson is a former military academic business mother, with deep expertise and hands-on experience in leadership, wellness and the future of work. She has spoken at TEDx Auckland this year with many business and government organizations, and her research and ideas to improve the working world have been published multiple times. Nelson helps organizations break down structural barriers faced by women and parents, including the New Zealand military, while experiencing improvements in organizational metrics such as well-being, retention, leadership, productivity, innovation and business performance. Together with her volunteer team, including Chris Parsons and Martin Dransfield, Nelson evacuated 563 people from Afghanistan to New Zealand and started the #workschoolhours movement.