It’s 4:30. Time to End the Workday?

Stressed out employees are rolling back their time on the job by 37 minutes, a new study shows.

The leader messaged his team’s project lead, and saw her away message. He emailed the team manager, and didn’t get a response. He called his assistant, and got voicemail. It was 4:15pm. He was frustrated. Where was everyone?

This is the new norm for leaders, as new research shows that many employees have come up with an answer to mounting work stress in a tough economy: cut off their day. According to a new study by ActivTrak that analyzed more than 130,000 workers in Q2, people have shortened the length of the workday by 37 minutes from a year ago.

Experts say it’s actually quite a sudden change, noting that it’s four minutes longer than just from the first quarter, and comes after five previously steady quarters. “Is this an indication people are more productive in less time?” asks Tamara Rodman, a senior client partner in the Culture, Change, and Communications practice at Korn Ferry. “I’m not sure.”

To be sure, part of the early shut-down—which is occurring both in office and at home—may provide the benefit of more energized workforces the following day. Tired workers tend to make mistakes toward the end of the day as well.

But ending the day earlier can result in unintended consequences, warns Ron Porter, senior client partner in the Global Human Resources Center of Excellence at Korn Ferry, such as unanswered customer messages, or inefficiencies like other team members who can’t complete work. “You have to make sure it’s not having a negative impact on the broader group.” He suggests careful evaluation, and measuring team productivity with the best tools available, to confirm that this is not the case.

If the earlier leave times are indeed not negatively impacting productivity, he agrees they could be a boon. “The organization will be more attractive to talent,” he says, likely attracting productive workers capable of finishing up a busy work day by 4pm.

Productivity numbers on a national scale don’t provide a clear answer yet. Productivity was in fact up by 3.7% from Q1 to Q2, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it’s a figure that involves many inputs. And that’s still down from its peak two years ago.

Experts say that remote employees have likely figured out how to work more efficiently, and now perceive their jobs as task-based, not time-based, so they can log off when they’ve finished their day. “They’re setting boundaries,” says Maria Amato, a Korn Ferry senior client partner.

The key to managing this, says Rodman, is very clear success metrics and performance goals, and making sure that there’s coverage if some people do finish early. That way, she says, rather than sneaking away at the end of the day, employees clearly communicate that they’ve finished and are heading out.

“You don’t manage this at 4:15pm," says Rodman. "You manage it at the Monday morning meeting.”


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