cogwheels_clockDoes Ford’s 40 hours per week production schedule that worked for cranking out Model T on an assembly line work for the your 21st century business where shared knowledge creation, and not amount of Model T’s mark a company’s success?  Ilya Pozin asks this question in his Linkedin post, “Why Employees Shouldn’t Have Hours.”

Management innovation requires looking at long held workplace traditions to see if they still fit your needs for today’s company. One long-standing tradition is the 40-hour workweek. The 40-hour workweek is a carryover from the times that industrial, factory production was the operating goal of companies. The employees clocked in every morning, did their eight hours on the assembly line and clocked out in the evening. Meeting production goals was determined by calculating the number of employee hours used to produce x number of widgets. Today, though, production goals are fluid. Employees are not assembling widgets that take a specified amount of minutes as they roll down the assembly line. Today’s employees develop then create projects that need varying amounts of time. For example, running sales figures may encompass the sales figures themselves and a report on the trends outside the company that affect the sales’ figures as well as customer comments and recommendations. Overall, it is a product that takes varying amounts of time to produce, rather than a product that will take the same amount of time to produce each time.

The model of fluid time also holds true in the type of workforce that is developing today.  As companies draw from crowd-sourcing and cross-enterprise alliances to create specific projects, even the amount of employees as well as the hours each contributes are extremely variable. In fact, studies show that more and more of the upcoming workforce is used to freelancing for projects within their field of expertise rather than work solely within their “location” of employment. Sticking to the rule of a 40-hour workweek causes companies to lose competitive agility because the production measures are still based in a product completed per workweek hours as compared to utility of the project completed.

Besides contrasting with the new phase of how companies organize themselves for production, sticking to the traditional 40-hour workweek limits the employees’ trust and sense of autonomy. You trust the employee to complete a project within a specified time. If you are requiring them to clock in and out to show advancement toward project completion, you do not trust them to actually complete the project, only the time. Nor, are you awarding the employee for spurts of intensive work followed by downtime, which is essential in the creative process. More importantly, production goals tied to work hours shows the employees that you don’t believe they are capable or willing to determine the amount of time necessary for the project and work within the goal deadlines. The result can be disengaged employees who sit around watching the clock instead of actively pursuing what both interests them and serves the business.  And, disengaged employees that feel management is a little bit like a harping mother asking you how many hours you studied instead of feeling like management rewards you for your ability to self-pace and self-determine how your assets best serve a particular project. When management takes away self-autonomy through prescribed weekly hours, the feeling of no self-autonomy also affects creativity and general workplace morale.

Trusting your employees to work toward project completion instead of 40 hour fulfillment also develops the confidence of your employees in setting project completion goals that meet the needs of your business.  They grow as leaders who can translate the vision of the company and its directors into tangible products that meet time line specifics. To do this, you have to enable an integral, coherent culture in your organization. That will in its turn encourage people to create engaged project teams and define a shape of the project. Also as your employees continue growing their skills at quality hours, they feel their leadership skills developing.  As I wrote in the post “Personal Growth Trumps Financial Gain,” opportunities for professional growth meet the goal of the workforce to garner personal growth as much as getting a paycheck.

Let’s go back to the example of mom and school work.  As you made your way through twelve years of education, you hope your mother lessened her harping about pacing your studies so that social life doesn’t interfere academic life. It got irritating to hear lectures about how you needed to spend more time at your desk.  Remember how it felt as those serious talks reduced and she began to trust you to be the master of your own time. Certainly you needed the skills of setting your own study schedule to make it through university, especially when the everything that university is outside of studies is so tantalizing.  And, you saw classmates who did not master their own study schedules need to drop out because their GPA was too low.  As you watched the schedule you set for yourself produce quality, you became more confident in your skills.

Loosening the umbrella, universal time expectation of 40 hours per week also frees up agility within the company and the company as a whole.  As employees feel freed from occupying their desk chair for a specified amount of time, they have more liberty in developing cross-departmental collaborations. A company’s ability to maintain agility is enhanced because employees feel free to group and regroup and redistribute time according to the company’s immediate goals.

When considering how your company values quantity hours versus quality hours, consider this end note in Pozin’s blog:

“Dropping your employees’ standard hours may require a cultural shift within your company. Not all change is bad. In fact, this one will reap benefits of increased flexibility and autonomy. Employee happiness and productivity is linked to trust–and enforcing hours shows exactly the opposite.”