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A 5-Hour Workday Is Not Just Possible, It's Profitable

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Office life has clearly evolved in the decades since Dolly Parton's gun-toting character in the 1980 dark comedy 9-to-5 took a stand against her sexist pig of a boss played by Dabney Coleman, announcing: "Up until now I've been forgivin' and forgettin' because of the way I was brought up, but I'll tell you one thing. If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I'm gonna get that gun of mine, and I'm gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot! And don't think I can't do it."

But significant workplace issues still exist -- and we are not just talking about abuses of authority. In fact, according to Stephan Aarstol, CEO and founder of beach-lifestyle company Tower, the traditional eight-hour workday itself is now as oppressive as Coleman's 9-to-5 character.

Aarstol first gained the business world's attention when a weak appearance on Shark Tank in early 2012 didn't stop him from walking away with funding for San Diego-based Tower, which sells stand-up paddleboards and other products. "Stephan froze pretty epically during his pitch and was mercilessly ridiculed by the Sharks," a spokeswoman told Entrepreneur Magazine. "But then he made a Rocky-like comeback and got competing offers from both Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary."

After striking a US$150,000 deal with Cuban for a 30 per cent ownership stake, Aarstol set out to expand his business globally. Back then, Tower's gross annual revenue was well under US$500,000. Last year, when Tower was featured in Forbes, the company was named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego.

This year, the venture is on track to generate US$9 million in sales. And now, Aarstol isn't just making products designed to ride waves. He is making waves in business circles by promoting afternoon-free employment in his new book The Five-Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness.

"The nine-to-five grind is great if the goal is to create a cult of workaholics," he says in an Ivey Business Journal commentary on how to increase productivity by reducing work hours. "But the idea that workers can be productive being forced to endure 70 per cent of their week at work so they can enjoy the other 30 per cent seems to me to be a clear case of collective insanity."

At Tower, Aarstol has reduced the workday for employees to five hours -- with no reduction in pay. And as noted above, the reported results are impressive enough to warrant attention from other employers. "When I tell people my team only works five hours a day, the response is always, 'That's nice, but it won't work for me,'" Aarstol says. "The nine-to-five mindset is so ingrained that most employers can't imagine anything else. But you don't have to run a paddleboard company to reduce hours by 30 per cent and still maintain productivity."

Keep in mind that by eliminating lunch hour, Tower actually only reduced work time by 120 minutes while creating much more employee freedom to enjoy life during the week. "The five-hour day is about managing human energy more efficiently by working in bursts over a shorter period," Aarstol says, adding that "humans are not machines. So just because you see employees at their desk for eight hours doesn't mean they are being productive. Even some of your best employees probably only accomplish two to three hours of actual work over the standard work day."

According to Aarstol, having more time to pursue passions, nurture relationships and stay active improves worker productivity by making employees happier while giving them more energy emotionally and physically. Furthermore, he says, a five-hour workday bakes in time management by forcing employees to prioritize high-value activities.

The entrepreneur admits a five-hour day won't work for every organization. But he insists clocking fewer hours to generate higher productivity is very manageable for most employers of knowledge workers. "People who dismiss the five-hour workday outright usually think it's impossible because they measure work in hours rather than output," Aarstol says. "However, most knowledge workers aren't paid by the hour. They're paid a flat salary. To help my team shift to a production mindset, I rolled out a profit-sharing plan where five per cent of company profits are doled out to employees who demonstrate exemplary productivity."

Henry Ford revolutionized the workday a century ago by reducing it to eight hours while doubling wages when it was still common for most workers of the world to put in 10- to 16-hour days. Not everyone will agree with Aarstol that another cut to the workday can be done while increasing productivity. But it is at least something to think about, especially if you are an unenlightened employer. After all, it is always better to give employees more freedom than have them tie you up like Coleman's character in 9-to-5.

Thomas Watson is the editor of Ivey Business Journal published by the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont.

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