Hang on to the 9-5 Work Day!

Buckets of value will be lost if the 9-5 workday becomes a thing of the past. Dan Schawbel argues in a piece he wrote in TIME today titled The Begining of the End of the 9-5 Work Day, that the conventional work day might in fact be relegated to the scrapheap of organizational evolution.
Leading the charge in the shift toward allowing employees to work anywhere around the world, at any time they want, are companies such as Ernst & Young, Aflac and MITRE, which all realize that they need to accommodate employees' personal lives if they want to retain them. "This notion of an eight-hour day is rapidly disappearing, simply because we work so virtually and globally," says Maryella Gockel, Ernst & Young's flexibility-strategy leader. By understanding Gen Y-ers' need for workplace flexibility, companies are better able to recruit and grow young talent for the future.
All of this is true and valid and aligns with my blog, Leading Net-Genners. I argued that the whole old employment model, not just the 9-5 workday, will become extinct. I suggested that instead of employing young people, progressive leaders create dynamic partnerships with them. However before succumbing to what seems like an inevitable trend, let's weigh up the costs and explore alternatives. The trend I am suggesting we consider circumventing is not the trend of changing the employment model from an hierarchical one to a collaborative one. That is a positive trend and we should vigorously embrace it. The trend we should question is the demise of the 9-5 workday. The 9-5 workday is about much more than inflexible office hours compelled by convention, structure and old-fashion managers. The 9-5 workday forces the intersection in time and place of multiple individuals. Each of these individuals come together at a given time and place and bring with them the power of their human energy, intellect, passion and talent. The reaction that occurs when this energy collides in the workplace can be nuclear in its scale, impact and innovation. I doubt we would have the innovation of a Google, Microsoft or Apple, if their employees all worked remotely at different times of the day. It is not only tech companies that desperately need to innovate; anyone who plans to be in business in five years time must cultivate a culture of rapid innovation. Disruptive innovation is unlikely to occur in a company made up of virtual workers. The problem is not that Gen-Y employees refuse to work 9-5 and that we must adapt to their changing lifestyles in order to attract them. The problem is that we have not redesigned our 9-5 work experience in ways that entice young people to bring their bodies, minds and souls to the office and interact excitingly with their peers and mentors. We know how important it is to constantly redesign our product offerings for the changing needs of our customers, but few companies put the same effort into redesigning the work experience and customizing it to the changing needs of Gen-Y employees and team members. Allowing employees to connect to Facebook or to listen to music hardly constitutes the redesign of a work experience. On the contrary these freedoms encourage employees to "opt-out" of the collective work experience and the organizational community. By allowing this opting-out we acknowledge our failure to provide employees with an experience more alluring than their two-dimensional digital friends and their canned music. The work experience is not only important for the attraction and retention of young talent; a constantly evolving and innovative work experience also propels product innovation and customer experience. It helps to protect a company's competitive advantage from erosion and commoditization. Here are some steps to consider:
  • Set up a task team comprising both young Gen-Y employees and experienced leaders to conduct an audit of your existing work environment and the ways in which it has/has not changed over the past 3-5 years.
  • Brainstorm the kind of work experiences that would be most alluring to the talent you are trying to attract and retain. These could include:
    • work autonomy
    • a tolerance for responsible error
    • an inspiring sense of higher purpose
    • easy access to mentors and organizational leadership
    • openness to adopting radical ideas if they make business sense
    • opportunities to challenge and be challenged in an emotionally safe environment
  • Check to what degree these experiences are currently present in your employees' work lives
  • Explore what needs to be done to infuse these experiences into your organization
  • Be ready to challenge and if necessary overthrow some long-held orthodoxies to make way for the vital and the vibrant.
When you have redesigned your work environment create the expectation that everyone is at the workplace together for a certain minimum number of hours a day. 1+1 = much more than 2 when aggregating human energy. The energy itself will entice your employees to take a break from Facebook and iTunes to interact in your vibrant and challenging environment.    

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