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Is the 40-Hour Work Week Gone Forever?

Is the 40-Hour Work Week Gone Forever?

By now, most of us have realized that COVID-19 has changed the way we do business, but to what extent? What common daily processes are being completely disrupted due to the pandemic? Will things ever return to ‘business as usual’ or have we just accepted a new ‘business as usual’ that was created from this unprecedented event? 

Reprioritizing Human Outcomes

When considering the potential changes to the traditional work schedule, the first question that should be asked is, “what do my employees typically do when they are in the office during a 40-hour work week?” To put it simply, the goal for any employer is that an employee completes tasks and provides outcomes during that time. Some employees work slower than others and take more time to get the same amount of work done. But if tasks are done well and in the expected timeframe, does it matter how long it takes to complete them?

A new ‘business as usual’ gives organizations the opportunity to take a deeper look on reprioritizing human outcomes over working hours. Instead of having a nine-to-five job where employees sit at their desks during a certain period, why not have staff work towards completing specific tasks and outcomes when it best fits their schedule? Additionally, from an employer’s point of view, do you really want to monitor your employees to make sure that they are sitting at their desk 40 hours each week? 

Avoiding Employee Burnout

If working from home has taught us anything, it is that most of the work for the majority of companies can be done remotely. However, we have also learned that it can potentially lead to burnout and overall poor mental health (in addition to any number of technology and data security challenges). The Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Three Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout,” which discussed how COVID-19 may be amplifying pressures to be available 24/7, causing extreme burnout amongst employees: 

“Sticking to a 9-to-5 schedule may prove unrealistic. Employees need to find work-time budgets that function best for them. They also need be conscious and respectful that others might work at different times than they do. For some it might be a child’s nap, for others it might be when their partner is cooking dinner. Employees with or without children can create intentional work-time budgets by adding an “out of office” reply during certain hours of the day to focus on work. A less-extreme reply might be to just let others know that you might be slower than usual in responding, decreasing response expectations for others and yourself.”

Using Automation to Create a New Business as Usual

While moving away from the typical nine-to-five schedule sounds ideal for some organizations, the reality is that not all work can be done on flexible schedules. Process automation presents the opportunity for businesses to complete tasks that MUST be performed on a set schedule – such as service level agreements – with minimal-to-no human interaction.

Let’s take a look at a few industry use cases. Within healthcare, claims automation through data ingestion or automatically relaying forms that must be sent during specific work hours could significantly free up employees’ time and allow them to focus more on their core activities and less on administrative functions. In the insurance industry, by automating examiners’ administrative processes, employees would have more time to review claims, which can typically be completed during any part of the day. These ideas could be applied to almost any industry today.

By leveraging process automation in the new ‘normal,’ businesses can materially improve the work/life balance for employees and avoid burnout – enabling them to focus on tasks at a time of day that is optimal for them. This also frees up staff to work whenever and wherever they want or, in some cases, wherever they can. 


With the new ‘task-based business as usual’, employees are able to shift priorities to focus on tasks that truly add value to the organization, increasing employee satisfaction. It’s time for companies to take a deeper look into the future of their processes and ask themselves “what is the next normal for sustainable productivity?” This insight will enable businesses to put greater emphasis on how employees can generate outcomes (instead of how many hours they logged), ultimately driving better results for the organization. 


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