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Escaping the presenteeism culture

How many times have you come to the end of your working day with little to show for it? Yes, you were in the office all day, but you were lacking motivation and focus, and spent a bit too long flitting through social media or being distracted by colleagues.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the four day week. We heard last week that Wellcome Trust were trailing plans for this, there’s also a great Reasons to be Cheerful podcast (episode 55) focused on this. Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd interview Andrew Barnes, an Australian businessman who successfully introduced the four day week into his company. Basically, employees get the same amount of money for working a 4 day week, and most of the evidence so far is that they maintain the same levels of productivity in four days as they did in five.

I’m interested to know how many office-based workplaces are really still ingrained with the presenteeism culture of being at your desk, in the office, 9am – 5pm. Or is it our own mindsets as employees that are the real barriers to change?

At university, students are expected to manage their time in an outcomes-based way. They slot their study time around their fixed lectures and appointments, and work to deadlines for submitting their assignments. Nobody is fixing their study schedule for them, and this is often their first experience of organising their time and working in this way. But why is it that for so many of us, when we progress into the world of work we regress into rigid fixed patterns; 9 – 5, Monday – Friday? Is this the best way to maintain motivation and productivity?

How many times have we quietly judged colleagues for coming in late to the office, having a long lunch break or leaving early? Whilst many organisations now offer flexible working, I think as employees many of us are still stuck in a mindset of the traditional working day, even if we are working on a flexi time basis, we somehow feel guilty or less valued than our colleagues who are working to traditional patterns. But let’s not forget that in the digital world, we also now take work home with us and are answering emails, writing reports and promoting our organisations at evenings and weekends too.

Since becoming self-employed at the start of the year, I have been more focused and productive in my work than I have been in a long time. One of the revelations for me has been taking time out during the day to go for a walk or do an exercise class. Now I’m working for myself, I feel that it’s okay to do a Zumba class on a Thursday morning and start work at 10.30am. But why didn’t I feel able to do this when I was employed? I don’t think my organisation was the barrier, I think my mindset was.

I now realise how much more you can do with less time when you are focused.

Rather than thinking about my working day in time, I am (gradually) shifting to thinking of my working day in tasks and outcomes. Typically, I split my day into four chunks (two before and two after lunch). Depending on how I’m feeling I’ll set my tasks accordingly and fit them around the other (non-work) things I want to do that day.

I think there’s a lot to be said for the 4 day week, but it shouldn’t be rigid. I prefer the model of outcomes based work, where you agree your objectives with your manager (or yourself if self-employed), and then check in at regular intervals to make sure you’re on course.

If it’s not happening, don’t just sit day dreaming, at your computer, walk away, take a break, get some inspiration. It’s all about trust and balance and understanding what helps you to focus.

Practice - it takes time to change our habits and mindsets. Yes, our workplaces need to change their cultures too, but we need to start having those conversations with our employers.

Find what works for you, what helps to rejuvenate and motivate you? Think of what you want to achieve, not the hours you work, tap into your creative flow and lose the guilt.

Articles about the 4 day week

Reasons to be Cheerful episode 55 – 3 day weekend

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