According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers and 499 more hours per year than French workers. How is that effecting us? Numerous studies have shown a distinct correlation between being overworked and several lifestyle-related diseases, such as depression, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That being said, cutting back on your work hours has some perceived drawbacks of its own.
The biggest concerns about reducing work hours are limited career growth, reduced income and the potential for prejudice as a result. Nevertheless, you can reduce your work hours without dealing with these setbacks. I spoke with Belma McCaffrey, founder of WorkBigger - an organization that offers women the support they need to reach their career goals - and an expert in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. She shares four tips on how you can cut back your work hours in order to live your best life.
Focus on Energy Rather Than on Time
McCaffrey’s first tip is to focus on your energy rather than solely on how much time you work. Ultimately, if you can direct your energy to produce outstanding work that’s important, you ensure your progress.
McCaffrey: In the current 9 to 5 model we’re conditioned to sit at our desks and work away even if we have low energy. As a result, we push through the day but don’t produce work that’s very valuable.
Focusing your energy on being more productive in less time starts by eliminating factors that slow you down, such as too much noise or not enough fresh air. Then, spend your energy on tasks that move your projects and goals forward. McCaffrey says that may mean you have to say no to other requests of your time if you feel it will slow your progress.
Be Confident in Your Value and Ask for Your Ideal Work Arrangements
The second tip for reducing work hours without sacrificing your career and pay is to believe in the value of your work and ask for what you want. When you recognize your value and request your worth, you’ll be eliminating concerns of career growth. McCaffrey further explains a few key points to this process.
McCaffrey: You need to really focus on your value and be clear on why you’re different. This will enable you to negotiate for yourself, whether that means increasing your rates, or changing work arrangements.
Once you’ve realized your value and know what you want to ask for, you need to be entirely prepared to defend your ask. McCaffrey offers five steps to help with this.
To point 4, you can propose to your employer a few different scenarios that get you what you’re asking for but may be easier for your employer to accommodate. So, if you’re initially requesting to cut back from 40 to 30 hours per week, be prepared to propose other options. In this scenario, you could suggest working 24 hours at the office and 16 hours at home or 32 hours in the office and 8 hours at home. Customize your alternatives in ways that will likely satisfy both you and your employer.
Explore Other Options
McCaffrey’s third tip is that if your current employer doesn't recognize your value, perhaps you should explore other opportunities. One alternative is to find an employer that recognizes the value of ambitious, highly productive workers and is willing to negotiate when it comes to hours and pay.
That such employers are out there is evident by the growing trend of remote work (working from home) and telecommuting. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 4.3 million Americans today work from home half of the time and that number is expected to grow exponentially. Remote work and telecommuting offers flexibility, time saved due to no commute, less interruptions and the ability to be more productive. These are all good reasons why it’s a viable option for women wanting to reduce their work hours.
Overcome Your Own Mental Barriers
Finally, when asking your employer for a work arrangement that is different from the accepted “norms”, intimidation and fear of rejection hold a lot of people back.
McCaffrey: If you can look at negotiation for what it is - a collaboration and an opportunity to share our needs - instead of what we fear it to be, you can tackle it with more courage versus fear.
McCaffrey also offers advice for overcoming your own internal barriers, like worrying about prejudice or the judgements of others in the office, to create the work lifestyle you want. It starts by accepting that prejudice is an unfortunate part of our reality.
McCaffrey: As more and more women challenge the status quo, the workplace will be forced to catch up. But really, it’s about having the courage to do what is most important to you, for you, regardless of any prejudice or bias. I think the more women make individual choices that are ideal for them, the bigger message that we send and companies who don't make gender equity and diversity a priority will pay the price in profit and growth.
If gaining more of your time to focus on a happy, healthy lifestyle is a priority for you, using the tips provided here, you can make it happen. There's no need to let the fear of limited career growth, reduced income or judgements of others hold you back from living your best life. Focus your energy toward being as productive as you can in a smaller window of time, know your value and ask for what you want, even if that means changing the way you view work or who you work for. By doing these things you can leave behind (or prove wrong) any stigmas that may exist, earn the income you know you deserve and have more time for the things that bring you happiness.
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